Public disputes procedure at county merger hearing

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Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney's state-mandated proposal hopes to save money by merging some Syracuse city and Onondaga County resources.

A panel of Onondaga County officials and representatives from area towns and villages held a public hearing Monday on the proposed merger of some Syracuse city and Onondaga County services.

At the hearing, members of the public criticized the panel for what they called an undemocratic approval process and a lack of transparency.

“This is not a democratic decision-making process in any way, shape or form,” said Eric van der Vort, a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University.

Some disproved of the decision to conduct the hearing in downtown Syracuse near midday on Monday while a similar hearing in a county suburb was held Thursday evening last week.

The Monday hearing, held at 12:30 p.m., made it difficult for working Syracuse residents to attend, some said.

Others criticized the plan’s approval process, which does not give citizens the opportunity to vote on the proposal directly.

The shared services panel — which includes Syracuse and Onondaga County officials and representatives from area towns, villages and school districts — will  vote on the proposal Wednesday morning. The plan was proposed by Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney.

About 15 members of the public spoke at the hearing, which was held at the Oncenter.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his County-Wide Shared Services Initiative, mandated county governments in New York find ways to reduce spending by consolidating overlapping services in their jurisdictions. The initiative was announced earlier this year.

Within the shared services plan is a proposal to merge Onondaga County police forces.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and most of the Syracuse mayoral candidates oppose the merger.

James Lanning, Skaneateles town supervisor and a member of the shared services panel, said the New York State Legislature forced the county to come up with a cost-saving plan because property taxes were too high.

“This was not us getting together trying to find a way to deprive city residents of things,” Lanning said. The committee did “the best they could,” he added.

Joe Driscoll, a resident who spoke before the panel, said he wished there was more public outreach and educational sessions about the plan.

“What I’d like to see is the actual method of how they’re going accomplish these things and what the details are,” he said.

If the panel votes to approve the plan, officials can continue with the application process and some county and city services could start to be consolidated in 2018.

If the plans are voted down, the county must create a new proposal and restart the application process next year.

A report compiled by Consensus, a citizen group of legislators and community members, estimated between $8.7 million and $22.9 million a year could be saved by consolidating Syracuse and Onondaga County legislative bodies. With the group’s recommendations, $7.9 million and $9.9 million a year could be saved by sharing resources.

The Consensus report is not up for vote Wednesday and will not be on the ballot in November. However, some of the report’s recommendations are included in the shared services plan.


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