Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to call for a $20 million competition among county and local governments in New York to come up with the best consolidation plan to streamline services and cost cuts. The winning entrant would get $20 million to implement its plan to show a permanent cut to the property-tax levy.
The initiative, which would need legislative approval, is the latest effort by the Democratic governor to try to push local governments to streamline services and cut costs — saying that the thousands of taxing entities in New York are making it very difficult for the state to attract and keep both residents and business entities.
“Why does government have to be a bureaucratic, slow, wasteful, inefficient piece? Where does it say that? Cuomo said. Cuomo has pushed local governments and schools to develop efficiency plans in order for homeowners to receive property-tax rebate checks. He has also expanded grants for consolidation efforts, and he advocated for a law as attorney general to make it easier for local governments to consolidate — which had been met with limited success. In response, local governments have been pressing Cuomo for more relief from unfunded state mandates, saying it is the costs from Albany that are driving up their budgets.
Given that Rockland County has the second highest property taxes in the whole of the United States, it would be in the best interests of the county to make a concerted effort to win this contest. Given that our law enforcement costs represent a major portion of our taxes and are among the highest in the state, a major consolidation plan to streamline police services and cut police costs is sure to peak the governor’s interest. One suggestion we have to win this competition is to conduct a thorough and unbiased study of the potential savings resulting from a consolidation of all police services in the Towns and Villages of Rockland County.
Police department consolidation is something that has been done across the United States, so why not here? For example, just across our border in Bergen County the police and sheriff’s departments were merged in 2015. The consolidation is expected to save taxpayers between $90 and $200 million over the next 25 years. About this consolidation Freeholder Steve Tanelli said: “The realignment of the Bergen County Police Department into the Bergen County Sherriff’s Office will eliminate redundancy, streamline services, improve communications, enhance public safety and save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 20 years. This is a historic day and a wonderful accomplishment for Bergen County.” Freeholder John Felice said: “It’s a historic day for the people of Bergen County and the future of law enforcement. One of my objectives when I first ran for office was to work toward the realignment of the county police and we achieved that today. What I find most positive about this experience is that we worked across party lines to make this happen. This is what the people of Bergen County wanted, and today it is a reality.”
Just to be clear the suggestion is not to consolidate Rockland’s police departments under the Rockland County Sheriff but clearly in any major consolidation his policing functions would also be impacted.
Ramapo’s 104 police officers were paid an average of $173,361 last year, making them the highest-paid town police in New York, according to the Empire Center’s 2015 “What They Make” report. The amounts listed in the report DO NOT include fringe benefits such as health insurance or employer pension contributions, which can add 35 percent or more to the cost for taxpayers. Clarkstown’s 163 police officers were the second-highest paid town police in ALL OF New York state, averaging $166,719. Overtime in Clarkstown was recently running at over $3 million per year or approximately $10,000 PER DAY.
In 2014 Bill Bratton was sworn in as New York City’s top cop to oversee a force of 34,500. His salary was $205,180. In the same year Clarkstown’s top cop, Michael Sullivan, overseeing a force of 165 was paid $271,377. Captain William Ovchinnikoff, was paid $263,068 and Captain Robert Mahon was paid $248,359. All three are paid more that New York City’s top cop managing a force 0.5% the size of the force that Bratton manages.
Clarkstown’s Taxpayers may be paying $802,980 per year for the three top officers to manage a police department of just 163 officers, but the same story is being played out in the other Rockland County police departments. The next contract the PBA squeezes out of the Clarkstown Town Board will become the standard for the rest of the county’s police departments. Add to these salaries those additional costs of 35% for fringe benefits and one can see why Clarkstown and other Towns are in danger of going belly up if this continues. This is fiscal madness and Rockland’s taxpayers are footing the bill. Residents cannot be expected to continue to risk their property values as a result of their property taxes. The time has come to consider all available options to gain tax relief, including police consolidation.
Consider just one of the savings in merging Rockland’s Town and Village police departments associated with consolidating the function of police chief. Add up those police chief salaries in the various Town and Villages (not counting their pension and other benefits) and over a consolidation period of five to ten years set a target to reducing the present number of chiefs to a single ‘Bill Bratton’ overseeing a new consolidated police force. That single item alone accruing from a consolidation of police departments will save Rockland County taxpayers a minimum of $1 million annually just in the reduction of salaries to a single top brass position. Want to argue that we need more police not less? Then use some of that $1 million savings and hire more cops. The savings will be reduced, but we will have more police officers out on the streets.
The Clarkstown Police Department simply costs too much and spends too much, most notably in overtime. Supervisor Hoehmann can not fix Clarkstown’s fiscal problems if he does not address the deteriorating cost problem associated with his police department. Consolidation is one way Clarkstown and all of the Towns in the County of Rockland might solve some of their long term problems in providing police services.
It’s time to conduct an honest and open-minded assessment of the potential pros and cons of a consolidation. What is your opinion as the county’s taxpayers?
For further information please see the following:
Crime May Not Pay, But In This Town, Fighting It Sure Does.
The Joke Is On You
Two Jokes-One Humorous, One Laughable
Program on Police Consolidation
When Harsh Economic Realities Impact Police Agencies