Column: Shared services has unlimited potential

Sharing services among local governments is not a new concept. Local governments collaborating with other local governments has been going on for years. 

During the 10 years I served as North Hempstead Town supervisor, I not only aggressively pursued the sharing of municipal services in my town of 31 villages and 11 school districts, but found common ground working together with then-supervisor and now County Executive Steve Bellone.

Working together again in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Shared Service Initiative, Mr. Bellone and I, along with a talented array of county executive staff and municipal leaders from across Suffolk County, created SuffolkShare — a virtual catalogue of municipal services by local municipalities offered to all participating local governments in Suffolk County.

Our Suffolk County team accepted Mr. Cuomo’s challenge to create significant taxpayer savings by working collaboratively with our sister governments in providing services and procuring goods.

I believe the governor understood that the potential to save millions of taxpayer dollars was at our fingertips if local governments would focus on how to expand the current ad hoc approach to sharing services. He put forward a law that required that we make the effort. The results are astounding.

Under Mr. Bellone’s leadership, we adopted SuffolkShare — the most comprehensive shared services plan in the state.

According to an independent review by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the Benjamin Center at SUNY/New Paltz and the Center for Technology in Government at SUNY/Albany, our plan was ranked among the most ambitious in the state, with the highest savings expected to be achieved on an annual basis. Suffolk County and our local partners are projected to save nearly $37 million over the next two years.

The genius of the countywide Shared Services Initiative is that it empowers local leaders to determine the best course of action for their municipalities. It also inspires us to speak to each other about the greatest challenges we face.

One such challenge is, of course, health care. In Suffolk County, health care spending accounts for more than 15 percent of the annual operating budget, and all local governments face the same challenge in managing rising health care costs. In fact, our Suffolk County Shared Services Panel agreed to form a subcommittee to offer suggestions to state legislators regarding ways to reduce burdensome regulations that make this process more difficult. Presently, however, local governments cannot under the law pool health insurance plans to form larger municipal health care consortiums in order to reduce costs.

Thankfully, the governor has agreed to tackle this issue by directing the state Department of Financial Services to make it easier for counties, towns, villages and others to create health consortiums. We must ensure that health care costs remain affordable to taxpayers without compromising our contractual obligations to our employees and their families.

This and countless other examples are why the governor’s proposal to make the Shared Services Panels permanent makes sense. By working together on a regular basis, year in and year out, our local municipal governments can achieve so much more while saving taxpayer dollars at every turn.

Jon Kaiman is the deputy Suffolk County executive.