The “County-Wide Shared Services Initiative,” enacted into law in 2017, required each county to convene a panel to develop a Shared Services and Taxpayer Savings Plan. In that year, Westchester County submitted an approved County-Wide Shared Services Plan that estimated $2.13M in savings in the first year and $1.2M in recurring savings thereafter. The initial Westchester County plan was heavily reliant on services shared through the use of information technology (IT):
• Desktop / Virtual Desktop Services and Local Area Network Management,
• Document Scanning Services,
• Software Procurement,
• Wide Area Network (WAN) Management,
• Symantec Protection Suite,
• Email and Smart Phone Services,
• Criminal Justice Warehouse,
• CAD Times,
• Fire RMS,
• Special Situation Critical Information Dispatch System, and
• HipLink and iPage.
Compared to other counties’ approved plans, the 2017 offering by Westchester County anticipated very modest savings, especially given the county’s size (population of nearly one million) and property tax burden. Although Westchester has, on average, the highest property tax burden in New York, the initial savings ranked well below other counties, including much smaller counties. County Executive George Latimer, newly elected in November of 2017, thought there were additional opportunities for shared services that would result in delivering improved governmental services at a lower cost. As a result, the county executive reconvened the county’s shared services panel (hereafter, “the panel”) to withdraw the initial plan and submit a more robust one for consideration.
Along with senior members of County Executive Latimer’s administration, the county brought in the State University of New York’ public policy think tank, the Rockefeller Institute of Government, and the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz to help develop a new plan. Both organizations have extensive experience working on local government and finance issues.
The refresh process kicked off on May 9, 2018, with a convening of representatives of Westchester’s municipalities, school districts, and county departments. The meeting confirmed that those present had numerous additional shared services ideas that might be pursued.
The county executive, as chair of the panel, was committed to the idea that the development of the plan be bottom up, with input included from a broad array of stakeholders. The mission wasn’t to simply reduce costs; it was to provide better service to Westchester County residents. With that in mind, the team developed a community-driven and consensus approach. This allowed for a broad definition of potential efficiencies, in a variety of forms, including:
• shared services,
• elimination of duplication,
• better coordination, and
The objective was not simply to find ways for the county to take over services, though this might be recommended in certain instances. The county might facilitate shared services among municipalities or municipalities may form their own local or regional partnerships.
Rockefeller Institute of Government and Benjamin Center staff members have interviewed the leadership and other members of municipalities, heads of county departments, and some members of interested outside groups. The county also reached out to labor representatives. The Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Benjamin Center also developed a survey for municipalities and others to take in order to gather and rank ideas and input.
In addition, both the county and the Rockefeller Institute of Government created an online comment opportunity so residents could offer ideas and suggestions. The county, along with the Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Benjamin Center, conducted three public hearings required under the law. Two hearings — held in Yonkers and Mount Kisco — received input from residents that helped inform the process prior to the completion of the report. A final public hearing was held on August 28, 2018 in order to get comments on this proposed draft plan.
The plan was also reviewed by the Westchester Board of Legislators and the staff of the County Executive and Rockefeller Institute presented the report to the board. On August 17, the Board said it did not have additional input.
Since the submission of the 2017 plan, there have been other factors that necessitate reopening the plan, including the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which caps the state and local tax deduction. That will put additional financial pressures on local municipalities and taxpayers. This plan offers solutions to mitigate the harm of this federal action for Westchester residents, including a way to coordinate the newly enacted New York State tax code changes meant to shield New Yorkers from the federal tax law’s negative effects.