Onondaga County, Syracuse look to consolidate government

Dec 17, 2013

Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse are hoping to build on the success of government consolidation projects in the past to make more moves to modernize or consolidate government in the future. How the two biggest government entities in central New York will do this is isn’t quite clear, but they say they want to get the conversation going.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney used a snowy day in Syracuse to illustrate the idea of government inefficiency.

"We have 19 towns, 15 villages, the city of Syracuse, Onondaga County and New York state plowing our roads," Mahoney said. "And we’re all doing it inside these artificial geographic spaces, that nobody would do if you gave them a blank slate and said go plow the roads.’”

At a news conference Monday, Mahoney and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner announced a plan to create a spreadsheet that describes every service from every local government in the county, and from there look for ways to consolidate governments. Miner says getting this data before making proposals is key, especially in more sensitive areas.

“What I have found in the past is that there is only one side speaking in some of these more volatile issues," Miner said. "And then a year later, people are looking at their tax bills and saying I didn’t know. That’s part of what we want, is to make sure that nobody says I didn’t know, that they’re going to understand all the implications of these decisions.”

Once the data is collected, decisions can be made about potential government consolidation.

Mahoney says at this point, there are no sacred cows.

"We are going into this with a completely open mind, thinking big, looking at the data, and saying if we could start with a blank slate, what would we do,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney and Miner say they don't want any preconceived notions, only to find the best way government can deliver services. And Miner says this isn’t just a nod to the bottom line.

“Is this being done to save money? Not primarily," Miner said. "This is being done to provide better services to the people of this community. And to do it in a way, and pay for it in a way, that makes more sense.”

The first step will be to work  with Syracuse 2020 and hire a consultant to compile statistics about what every government entity does in Onondaga County, using state dollars earmarked for encouraging government consolidation. They would like to see that process take no more than a year to 18 months.

Miner says one of the only silver linings of the recent fiscal crisis impacting government is that it gives governments the ability to think differently, and make changes to make government more efficient.  Miner and Mahoney have been successful in sharing services between the city and county before, and because of that, say they are in a good position to lead this kind of initiative.