EDITORIAL: Everybody’s ‘QUISS-PEE’

QUISS-PEE. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Pretty soon important people you know will ask your opinion of their QUISS-PEE. All you can do is mumble something like: Well, it’s about what you’d expect…

How would you pronounce the acronym for County-Wide Shared Services Plan (CWSSP), which is what we’ll get from the County-Wide Shared Services Initiative (CWSSI)? However you want to say it, the plan could affect every town, village and county in the state–except for New York City–and the deadline for the completing this plan is just weeks away. Are you ready?

The initiative mandates the creation of plans to reduce property taxes. The chief executive of each county in the state must convene a panel that includes all the supervisors and mayors in the county and come up with ideas to share municipal services in ways that cut the local tax burden. Then the panel must vote on the plan after which the chief executive–ours is Supervisor Matt Murell, (R-Stockport)–has to certify that the savings are real and off we all go to the magical Kingdom of Lower Taxes.

The carrot is that the state will give counties a matching grant for the expected tax savings. The stick is that counties that don’t share won’t get the matching grant and will have to explain to the public what they didn’t do and why they didn’t do it. Pretty scary, huh?

It might work. Local government already engages in sharing. One prominent example in recent years is the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building, which the Village of Valatie and the Town of Kinderhook both use for their meetings and office functions. The highway superintendents of each municipality in the county have a longstanding and effective informal network of mutual support. The fire companies have mutual aid. The list goes on.

There’s more that could be done, and one of the most intriguing ideas was raised at a recent public hearing in Hudson, where participants discussed whether the county should sell several of the old buildings it currently occupies. County government headquarters would move to the John L. Edwards Primary School Building on State Street just a few feet from the current headquarters.

The school district plans to close the primary school in a couple of years, which makes sense for the district but will leave a hole in the middle of a neighborhood beset at the moment by violence and drug abuse. Having the county Board of Supervisors move its headquarters from the old school building it now occupies across State Street to a more modern old school building won’t help the neighborhood. But consolidating the board functions with other county functions at the John L. Edwards site might reach a critical mass that helps stabilize the community.

And if, as proposed, there’s also room at the new site for Hudson City Hall, it seems like an idea well worth considering.

What happens if two empty county office buildings and City Hall go on the market all at once. Will they sit vacant and create new problems? That’s possible. But a more likely scenario is that the sturdy old county buildings will attract buyers and the properties will return to the tax rolls.

One last advantage of this game of real estate musical chairs is that it promises to end a disgraceful practice of county government: its lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The John L. Edwards School is handicap accessible. The county office building at 401 State Street is not, except for the Board of Supervisors meeting room. That disregard for the law and common decency must end.

Plans come and plans go. Their value often lies in unintended consequences. For instance, whatever else you think about Governor Andrew Cuomo, he gets credit for sustaining his crusade to nibble away at the property tax burden. This latest initiative will yield him a crop of new plans but he still faces the same obstacle encountered by all plans for reducing taxes in upstate New York: We who live here dislike property taxes but not as much as we dislike giving up local control over our government services.

Our elected local leaders will come up with sharing schemes. Maybe they’ll save us a gazillion dollars. Don’t hold your breath. But if we use this opportunity to tend to our neighbors in crisis and grant others basic rights they’ve been denied, that too is sharing. It has a value measured in more than dollars.

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