|
The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • A Yates-Schuyler merger? Consolidation study about to begin

    • email print
      Comment
  • Officials from Schuyler and Yates counties are poised to launch a study on ways to share services, consolidate departments - or possibly even merge the two counties together.
    Consultants were interviewed last week, and a year-long study will soon be launched on a wide variety of ways for the two small, rural neighboring counties to save money by collaborating, said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn.
    “Everything is on the table,” he said.
    After several years of informal talks, the process begin in 2013 when the two county legislatures agreed to the study. Late last year, a $50,000 state grant was received to fund the bulk of the study.
    “The reason the two counties decided to partner was the similarities between the two,” O’Hearn said. “Our populations, our demographics, our land mass, the lakes - we’re almost a mirror image of each other. Put together, where two counties individually are struggling, the thought is, if we were to combine in some fashion, that might make a decent-size county that would still be manageable.”
    Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy agreed.
    “For both of us, our main industries are agriculture and tourism. Size-wise, we’re two of the smallest counties in the state,” she said. “If we combined, we’d still be smaller than Steuben County, geographically.”
    Schuyler County has been under fiscal stress in recent years, O’Hearn said.
    Purdy said Yates County’s financial situation isn’t quite as bleak, but that the county has had trouble staying under the state’s property tax cap without cutting services that are essential to residents.
    A steering committee comprised of O’Hearn, Purdy, legislators from both counties and department heads from both counties is overseeing the consolidation study process.
    Officials will likely spend the coming months feeding detailed information to the consultant, who is expected to come back with a set of recommendations within a year.
    “Some of the options, I would assume are going to make so much sense, that we’ll start to work on them immediately,” Purdy said. “Other options may be more longer term and may require more discussion.”
    Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly said there are too many taxing entities in New York, and has been putting pressure on municipalities to consolidate.
    However, a full merger of two counties would be unprecedented in New York, O’Hearn said.
    “This certainly has the potential to be a model project,” he said.
    It would also likely require not just local approval, but action in the New York State Legislature and possibly amendments to the state’s Constitution, O’Hearn said. A merger process would take roughly a decade to complete, he added.
    Page 2 of 2 - Officials from Yates-Schuyler say they’ll make the process transparent, and will be seeking public input as it moves forward.
    • County officials will discuss the study at a May 7 luncheon at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, presented by the Schuyler County League of Women Voters and the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce. The cost is $20, and the deadline to RSVP is Thursday. For details, call 535-4300 or email SchuylerLWV@gmail.com.

        calendar