Items in the New York state budget that affect central New York were highlighted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo while he was in Syracuse Wednesday. The budget includes a continuing push for government and service consolidation.
Cuomo called attention to the funding for additional renovations to the New York state fair and Hancock International Airport. But part of his campaign to lower property taxes includes a requirement in the budget for counties and local governments to try to find savings.
“The county executive will call together all the local governments in Onondaga and put everybody at one table, which has not happened believe it or not, and say to all the local governments, we have to figure out how to work together and how to save money by sharing services,” Cuomo said. "I think people will engage. I think they're very concerned about property taxes. They get it. You bring the power of democracy to this discussion, and you'll see how local governments actually find ways to save money and get creative."
Local governments can opt in or out of the recommendations but must explain why. The Onondaga County Legislature is already studying consolidating services in a subcommittee with elected officials from the city of Syracuse and towns and villages. But the legislature said they will not consider a government merger with the city of Syracuse this year. Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney said she wants to take the issue of merging the governments directly to the people for a vote.
“The whole conversation about consolidation, if people are paying attention, has been a way to get to a referendum so people who live here have a say," Mahoney said. "We should all be knocking down all barriers to the residents here to be able to weigh in on this directly. For each individual government to be doing the same things is expensive. When you get your property tax bill, you pay that expense. If we can do that less expensively, avoiding the conversation is irresponsible. Kicking the can down the road is irresponsible.”
Currently, state law only allows towns and villages to petition and vote on combining or dissolving local government, but Mahoney said she wants that to change. The Consensus CNY Commission on consolidating government is lobbying Albany for the petition process to include cities and counties as well.