Suffolk County Leads Charge with Towns, Villages to Save Money

Deputy Suffolk County executive Tom Melito, left, led a meeting in which he introduced the shared services initiative. East Hampton Town supervisor Larry Cantrell, right, spoke up in support of the initiative. Christine Sampson photo
Deputy Suffolk County executive Tom Melito, left, led a meeting in which he introduced the shared services initiative. East Hampton Town supervisor Larry Cantrell, right, spoke up in support of the initiative. Christine Sampson photo

By Christine Sampson

Officials from Sag Harbor Village, East Hampton Town, Southampton Town and North Haven Village are working with Suffolk County on a plan to share more services and resources to save taxpayers money.

Exactly what that plan looks like has yet to take shape, but during a meeting about the initiative on Monday at East Hampton Town Hall, those involved laid out broad examples of where those mutual agreements might occur, including technology, human resources, bidding for and purchasing of goods and services, issuing of permits, record keeping and more. The initiative is a part of legislation passed by New York State earlier this year asking counties to create shared services programming.

“At the end of the day, this exercise is a concerted effort to enhance civic health,” Tom Melito, one of four deputy Suffolk County executives, said Monday. “Ultimately, we would like to provide more consistency in our services and response while instilling greater confidence in our institutions. It is clearly worth a look to review potential options and how they might work.”

The state legislation created in each county a Shared Services Panel responsible for drafting the plan. The Suffolk Shared Services Panel consists of County Executive Steve Bellone and town supervisors and village mayors. School districts and special taxing districts such as water, sewage or fire districts may opt to voluntarily participate through a vote of their respective boards.

The panel’s plan is due to be submitted to the Suffolk County Legislature by August 1, at which point a series of public hearings will be held. After they receive feedback and recommendations on the plan from county lawmakers and members of the public, the Shared Services Panel will vote to adopt its plan by September 15.

According to Richard Tobe, New York State’s deputy director of state operations for special projects, under the state legislation those municipalities that successfully adopt shared service plans in 2017 or 2018 for implementation in 2018 or 2019 will be eligible for one-time grants from New York State equal to the sum of money saved through their respective plans. Mr. Tobe said it will be up to the counties, towns and villages to work together to allocate that funding where it is most needed.

“Almost everything government does is being looked at now,” he said. “Everything goes. The time frames are short, we know that, but this is not the end of a process.”

Jon Kaiman, another deputy county executive, said many local municipalities are already sharing services in many ways, though he said some are informal, and said the current initiative is meant to formalize and expand the efforts.

“We’re looking for our residents to think in terms of what areas of frustration have they come across in dealing with local government and finding that the multiple government model here has cost them money or time or frustration,” Mr. Kaiman said, “and see how we can incorporate those experiences into how we work together and minimize what people are confronted with.”

In Sag Harbor, according to a list provided by the village administration, the village already has contracts in place with East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village, Southampton Town, North Haven Village and Suffolk County for services such as animal control, street lighting, fire marshal inspections, harbor master services, cooperative purchasing, computer services, emergency services dispatching and more.

“I’m looking forward to ideas that will help us,” Sag Harbor mayor Sandra Schroeder said after attending Monday’s meeting. “We all work together already, so it’s not like it’s going to take a big leap.”

Sag Harbor School District superintendent Katy Graves and school board member Tommy John Schiavoni also attended the meeting. Ms. Graves got up to offer up the school district’s distance learning technology to county officials and other local entities for use in holding emergency first responder training classes locally that otherwise would have them traveling long distances.

After the meeting, Ms. Graves said the shared services initiative reminded her of the mandate Governor Cuomo gave school districts two years ago to find efficiencies in order to achieve tax freeze credits for their residents.

“When you come to the table, there are captures to be found because our missions are so similar to one another,” she said.