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Cuomo to push government consolidation; Onondaga County executive says it's already working

In Wednesday's State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is going to propose a plan the would encourage localities to consolidate services with other government entities.

His plan to freeze property tax rates for two years is dependent on local governments and schools demonstrating that they are consolidating and sharing some services with other governments in the second year. If they fail to do that, property taxes would go up after all.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, a Republican, is already hoping that 2014 is a year when talk of government consolidation takes a big leap forward. She says many county initiatives to create efficiencies through consolidation already have worked, pointing to the reshuffling of human services departments in 2013.

"We have people who have taken much bigger jobs. We have department heads who have taken on smaller jobs, and by and large it’s been very smooth," said Mahoney. "What we need to do now is figure out what benefit can come from fewer departments and make sure we are maximizing that benefit.”

Mahoney says government should first and foremost be looking at whether its services are easily accessible. The county and city of Syracuse has joined forces this year to study the possibility of consolidation in all agencies. The Republican says one of her goals in the coming year will be to encourage more efficiencies by eliminating duplicative services in with more local governments.

“It doesn’t do people who live in Onondaga County any good if I tell you we’re fiscally sound, and I can keep your taxes down, if the local municipality that you live in is not fiscally sound, and cannot keep your taxes down. The only way we can only be effective is to be aware that we share a balance sheet with all of the municipalities here.  We have to work together.”  

Mahoney says so far, the changes in the Department of Social Services and other departments have gone smoothly. But, she says, the real proof is when the people that use those services begin to deal with the new slimmed down bureaucracy.

"January 1st is when we begin hearing from people of the effect of this consolidation. But we already know inside what some of the barriers have been, and we’ve knocked them down.”  

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.