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Onondaga County has 36 municipalities, but 57 fire departments

Don McCullough

There are 57 fire departments is Onondaga County, which is nearly twice as many as the number of municipal governments. That’s just one example of the issues facing a task force on government consolidation. Tallying the number of government agencies is the first job.

There are 36 municipal governments in Onondaga County, from the city of Syracuse to tiny Marcellus. Each also has its own public works department. With government costs rising and population – or really, the tax base – shrinking, the county has been looking at ways to consolidate services.

Syracuse and Onondaga County’s planning departments merged last year.

Joseph Stefko heads the Center for Governmental Research, the agency hired to do the research for the county. He says the world of local government has been turned on its ear since the recession.

"So we have this growing gap between what we’re doing and what’s sustainable," he told the Thursday Morning Roundtable. "And so I think there are some basic economic and fiscal pressures that have served to really change the tenor of these conversations."

He added: "Managing local government today is considerably more difficult than it was 10 years ago. The resources are more limited. The costs are escalating at, in some cases, unsustainable rates."

He says there is sharing going on now than you’d expect, though not officially.

"The informal sharing of manpower, or capital assets, capital equipment, to do big jobs. Particularly, in the public works arena," Stefko said.

The baseline report from the county’s commission on government modernization, Consensus CNY, which looks at where governments are now, is due out later this month.  

There are three types of fire departments in the county. Municipal departments are controlled by their respective city or village. There are also 12 fire districts and a several fire protection districts, which are nonprofit services contracted to serve designated areas.