WHITE PLAINS – Joined by more than 50 career firefighters from throughout Westchester, County Executive Robert P. Astorino outlined a shared services plan aimed at savings taxpayers money.
The plan, recently approved in a bi-partisan vote of 29-0 of municipal leaders, could save taxpayers nearly $6 million over the next few years, according to Astorino. He discussed the plan with the backdrop of the Fire Training Center in Valhalla, one of the county’s most important shared service initiatives, where Westchester’s fire departments conduct emergency training exercises.
“The county’s Fire Training Center, run by our Department of Emergency Services, is one of the most vital and cost-effective shared services programs that we can provide to both career and volunteer firefighters – and the people they protect – throughout Westchester County,” said Astorino. “Can you imagine how expensive it would be if all 58 fire departments had to pay for 58 different emergency training centers? The cost would be prohibitive, the training less effective and lives would be put in jeopardy.”
According to the county executive’s office, in recent years, Astorino has put in place shared services initiatives totaling $55 million a year. In addition, he has lowered the tax levy by 2 percent since 2010, which has kept an estimated $400 million in the pockets of taxpayers.
In approving the shared services plan after several forums, three public hearings and hundreds of hours of input, leaders endorsed 12 ways – mostly information technology initiatives – to save money by eliminating redundancies and increasing efficiencies in government. Initiatives agreed to include having the county assist some localities with IT management, document scanning and storage and technology and software purchasing, among others, that can reduce costs on a local level. View the report here.
“It was completed with cooperation, collaboration and communication,” Astorino said. “We know that sharing services is not a silver bullet. The way to reduce taxes is by growing the economy, controlling costs and eliminating state mandates. But by working together, we are able to find additional savings and provide services more cost-effectively.”
The Shared Service Forums were chaired by Astorino and included representatives from nearly all of Westchester County’s municipalities who discussed ways that local governments can continue to cut costs, notably through sharing services with the county, and lobbying the state to stop passing down its costs.
Thursday’s presentation was required under the state’s guidelines and coincided with Fire Prevention Week where members of three separate fire academies were in training: 30 recruits from the Yonkers Fire Department, 11 from the Mount Vernon Fire Department and 17 from the Career Chiefs Fire Academy.
In his remarks, the County Executive noted that in 2016, the county’s Department of Emergency Services provided over 77,500 hours of instruction to 8,550 students and provided thousands of hours of training to EMS agencies. Additionally, he said DES provided dispatch for 52 fire departments and 31 EMS agencies through 60 Control, the dispatch center at DES that is also known as the Emergency Communications Center.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 state budget mandates that 57 counties throughout New York State (New York City is excluded) establish a Shared Services Panel to come up with ways for governments to share and coordinate services. The panels, however, did not include school districts that typically make up roughly 60 percent of a property owner’s property taxes.
Westchester County’s 2018 plan adds to the county’s ongoing efforts to lower the cost of government. The county has been sharing services with localities for years by consolidating local police departments with the county, providing specialized police units to cities and towns, and utilizing the county’s planning and land use experts to develop a master plan for the Village of Rye Brook, to name a few.
Over the years the County Executive has convened forums on the issue, and in 2013 Westchester County, created the county’s Shared Services Handbook, which is a guide for local communities on how the county can help lower the costs for local governments.
“Sharing services is not a new concept in Westchester County,” said Astorino. “We are committed to scrutinizing every dollar spent and find savings wherever we can.”