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Municipal consolidations are moving our direction

Jan 08, 2011 3:47 pm
Consolidation is coming our way, with neighboring Northern Dutchess towns now joining a wave that's also included Greene County's southern neighbor, Ulster County, and resulted in a well-attended conference on the subject last month. A story by Jim Gordon in HV Biz this week addressed a Dec. 15 public forum hosted by the Northern Dutchess Alliance titled, “Shared Services Across Northern Dutchess Towns," and how it worked with the alliance’s stated goal to “create a broad-based and inclusive institutional structure for regional cooperation and economic development," using a public process to build support for ideas.

The forum included a discussion on case studies of successful consolidations of services, particularly in Ulster County. A follow-up report on possible areas for consolidation is expected early next year. Saugerties town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel spoke about the consolidation of the town and village police forces – a laborious but successful effort that won approval from both town and village voters and members of both departments, which saw no layoffs.

“One element is not to rush things,” said Lucy Hayden, president of the alliance. “That consolidation of jobs was done over such a long time no one actually lost their position. That was a useful bit of insight.”

“In New York state, the cost of government is coming home to roost and it will be painful,” said Jonathan Drapkin, president and CEO of Pattern for Progress.

“I think what we are trying to convey is the effort to restructure government service delivery is going to happen whether with government leading the way or having it fostered upon it,” said Drapkin. “It will either be done after intelligent planning or because local taxpayers will not continue to pay increased costs for government when that cost is rising without increased services.”

He said that once a successful consolidation is completed, other employees and officials become less reluctant to try it in other departments. “Once a major objection to the whole process was a loss of jobs,” said Drapkin, referring to the police merger in Saugerties. “Once that did not in fact happen, people have opened their minds to the whole process.”

While efforts in Ulster County continue, Pattern is teaming with the Northern Dutchess Alliance to seek opportunities for consolidations there and are interviewing town supervisors and mayors for input. Their report “will point the way in Dutchess,” said Hayden.