I was filled with hope when I looked at an auditorium full of town, village and school officials this week.
They came, on very short notice, to the first meeting of the Rockland County Shared Services Initiative Panel.
As County Executive, I am legally required to form this panel and lead this effort, started by the governor and approved as part of the state budget, to find ways to share services and generate property tax savings.
The law requires all towns and villages, other taxing entities including sewer districts, water districts, lighting districts and others to come together to create a plan to share services.
The overriding idea is to save money and reduce property taxes.
Who could argue with that?
Certainly not me. In three years as your County Executive, I have cut government spending 9 percent and reduced the size of county government 22 percent.
But implementing the same kind of reform on a countywide basis is, to say the very least, challenging.
We all know, the devil is in the details.
This statewide initiative is new – so new that it’s still being shaped in Albany.
As I told the crowd, this effort is a little like building an airplane in flight.
But we’re not going to let that stop us.
This is the law. The time for debate is over and we are moving ahead.
Rockland County was the first county in the Hudson Valley and among the first in the state to set up this panel, which is required.
We have already engaged a highly respected expert to help us create this plan.
But the ideas have to come from the community. My role is that of facilitator. Every town, every village, every taxing district, has a role to play in this plan.
I was especially pleased that Dr. Mary Jean Marsico of BOCES attended the meeting along with representatives of both the Nyack and North Rockland school districts.
School districts were not originally going to be part of this state initiative.
But after I along with other county executives pointed out to the governor that schools comprise two-thirds of the average property tax bill, that was changed.
Schools now have the option of being included. Again, the fact that two Rockland districts along with BOCES made a point of being at the first meeting is a great sign.
We realize that this is uncharted territory.
But we chose to think of this as an opportunity: An opportunity to save you money.
An opportunity to reexamine the way we have been doing things, in many cases for many years.
Times have changed. Technology has changed. Maybe, in some cases, we can do things differently.
And Albany is telling us that there will be a financial incentive for creating savings on our tax bills.
Imagine that: Not only could your tax bill not go up, but it could actually go down.
We are going to work together to find creative ways to share services and lower costs.
Do you have any suggestions?
We will have three public hearings at different locations around the county.
The first will held at 7 p.m., May 17 at the Fieldstone Middle School in Thiells.
The second will be held at 7:30 p.m., May 24 at the RCC Tech Building.
We are still planning the third, which will likely be held around June 7 or 8. We will keep you posted.
You can reach out to me via email at CountyExec@co.rockland.ny.us
I want to hear your ideas.
Remember, we’re all in this together.