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Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition

Supervisor Ed Romaine during his State of the Town address. Photo by Kyle Barr

Click on the inset pictures to get a better view of which homes are in each defunct district.

Town of Brookhaven residents can soon expect a check in the mail after the Town Board unanimously voted to pass a resolution that would return remaining fund balances to taxpayers in six dissolved special water districts. 

A map of the defunct Sound Beach water district showing where residents will be receiving refunds. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

“This is part of the $20 million grant that the town got to consolidate shared services to improve efficiency,” Ed Romaine, town supervisor, said at the June 27 town meeting. 

The Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan is designed to consolidate town services and create shared services with other local municipalities to help cut costs. The dissolution of the six water districts was part of that consolidation, and when they were dissolved there were outstanding fund balances. 

The plan dates back to the 2018 $20 million grant that was awarded by New York State, which went toward modernizing services while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reducing redundancy in local governments and pursuing opportunities for increasing shared services. 

“All of that money is going back to the residents of those water districts,” the supervisor said. “They will get a check in the mail — [the amount] will vary from district to district.”

The town supervisor mentioned one of the benefits of consolidating services and eliminating the special districts, is that people who are now covered by the Suffolk County Water Authority but were once part of paper districts will get some of that money back. 

In total, the town will return approximately $500,000 to taxpayers. The money is from remaining fund balances from fiscal year 2018 that earned interest in 2019. 

The highest refund will go to the taxpayers who were served by the dissolved Sound Beach Water Supply District. The district, as of December 2018, had a remaining fund balance of $274,018.97. 

A map of the defunct West Setauket water district showing where residents will be receiving refunds. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Kevin Molloy, Brookhaven Town spokesperson, said residents of the special district that covered over 3,000 parcels will get an average refund of $89. The range of the refunds for Sound Beach varies from as low as 49 cents to as high as $2,638. 

The West Setauket Water Supply District had a remaining fund balance of $71,363.35, and each resident is expected to receive an average refund of $126, according to Molloy. 

Refunds will range from 14 cents to $476. 

Molloy said the amount residents get will depend on the evaluation of their property in their respective district. 

The refund will be handled by the town’s commissioner of finance who is authorized to remit all remaining fund balances of the dissolved special water districts, plus all accrued interest to the Town of Brookhaven tax receiver. 

“Residents will be getting a check in the mail starting the beginning of [this] month and no later than August 31,” Molloy said. 

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On Long Island, the cost of property taxes weighs heavily on many people’s minds. In Brookhaven, the town is working with villages, schools, libraries, and other special districts to consolidate municipal services, which should lead to savings for homeowners. Any initiative to save taxpayers money is a worthwhile endeavor in our book.

After a two-year long process, New York State recently awarded Town of Brookhaven a $20 million grant for its application as part of the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition. The grant is a byproduct of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) attempts to cut costs, share services and streamline inefficiencies in order to reduce property taxpayers’ burdens statewide.

In a field of finalists that were all upstate counties other than Brookhaven, the town came out on top, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) wasted no time in gathering representatives from villages, ambulance and fire districts, school districts and library districts to create a Council of Governments Committee. On Oct. 10 the council met to discuss the best practices of governance, shared services and intermunicipal opportunities expected to come from the $20 million cash influx.

Due to his leadership qualities and ability to work across party lines, we have confidence that Romaine has the ability to implement the money in an effective way. Project proposals have included using town contracts to buy in bulk things like asphalt replacement, which can save money for villages since the town can get a better price due to its size. Villages such as Port Jefferson could benefit not only from highway services but a town purchasing portal, electronic records management and storage.

While we know the council is in good hands, we hope the committee will take a serious look at how to run each agency more efficiently, even if some are not consolidated, and we also have suggestions for the future.

In addition to implementing current plans established during the grant application stage, the council hopes to explore possible other future initiatives. As the town moves forward, one suggestion we have with any potential plans is to call on local village officials and district heads to organize public meetings where residents can attend and discuss their concerns with town officials or brainstorm suggestions.

We also hope that Brookhaven will lead the way for other municipalities outside its scope. While we know not every town has the privilege of a $20 million grant, after implementing changes in Brookhaven, we hope to see town leaders reach out to other towns in Suffolk County for examples and suggestions to save their residents money.

The chance to save taxpayers money has the potential to cross town lines in the next few years.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella along with leaders from dozens of other districts attend the first meeting of Brookhaven’s Council of Governments Committee, a group aiming to reduce taxes through sharing services across taxing districts. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The committee’s title sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Brookhaven Town’s plan to streamline government services is nonfiction and slated for the nearer future than a galaxy far, far away.

Brookhaven Town hall was the setting for the inaugural Council of Governments Committee meeting, a congregation of representatives from across the town’s villages, ambulance and fire, school and library districts Oct. 10. The leaders came together to begin brainstorming strategies to make government more efficient by sharing services with the goal of reducing costs for their mutual taxpayers. The meeting was hosted by Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and was attended by representatives from the Villages of Belle Terre, Shoreham and Port Jefferson; Setauket Fire District; Port Jefferson EMS; Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Emma S. Clark, and Middle Country libraries; and Shoreham-Wading River, Comsewogue, Port Jefferson and Rocky Point school districts among many others.

Brookhaven was recently awarded a $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition grant by New York State, which will go toward modernizing and reinventing the delivery of services while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reducing redundancy in local governments, pursuing opportunities for increasing shared services, and implementing modernizations and best practices, according to a town press release. The committee will be charged with implementing the changes and identifying additional areas for efficiency and fiscal savings, as well as providing oversight of the 16 MCEC projects.

“We’re interested today in talking about what we can do jointly for our mutual constituents to improve the delivery of services, to reduce costs, to share services whenever possible — to do the things that are going to move this town, your school district, your village, your taxing district forward so that our mutual constituents benefit from this,” Romaine said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to redesign how we do things. This is one opportunity where we can reach across jurisdictional lines and say we’re all in this together.”

Engineering firm Laberge Group has served as a consultant for the town’s municipal consolidation plans, and representatives Ben Syden and Nicole Allen were on hand at the committee meeting to update the attendees on the status of some of the projects already underway.

“A year and a half ago, we asked for your hope, we asked for you to say, ‘yup, I may be interested in doing this,’” Syden said during the meeting. “Now, we have pilots, we have examples and now we want to deploy this townwide.”

The projects will be implemented over a span of two to three years, according to Syden, and the full implementation of the projects is expected to save more than $60 million collectively amongst the taxing districts over five years.

The dissolution of the Village of Mastic Beach and reincorporation into the town, the consolidation of 24 of the town’s 112 special districts including four water districts into the Suffolk County Water Authority and six erosion control districts consolidated into one are among the already completed projects undertaken as part of the MCEC project. Upcoming projects include the consolidation of property tax collection and processing systems with several villages including Port Jefferson and Shoreham, construction of a regional salt storage facility, purchase of regional specialized fleet equipment, expansion of single-stream recycling waste management services to six special districts throughout the town and many more.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine at his state of the town address April 3. Photo by Alex Petroski

Sharing is a beautiful thing. It can foster friendships and good will, and even net a municipality a $20 million check.

Brookhaven Town was selected June 14 as the winner of the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, an initiative announced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in 2016 that challenged local governments to submit in-depth proposals for reducing the cost of living through streamlining services offered by overlapping taxing jurisdictions like villages, schools, ambulance companies, library and fire districts, towns and counties. Brookhaven was amongst six finalists as of summer 2017, the others being smaller upstate municipalities. Each of the nine incorporated villages within Brookhaven passed resolutions identifying the areas in which a consolidation of services makes sense, and officially pledged partnership with the town in pursuing the projects last year.

“High property taxes are a burden that far too many New Yorkers must bear and we will continue to deliver innovative solutions to keep taxes down without sacrificing the services they provide,” Cuomo said in a statement June 14. “I congratulate Brookhaven for putting forth a creative plan to better serve their community and crafting an innovative model to save taxpayer dollars.”

Some of the projects in the town’s proposal included the consolidation of tax collection and tax assessor services; utilizing Brookhaven’s staffed maintenance workers rather than putting out bids for contracts; creating a regional salt facility to be used during snow removal; using town contracts to buy in bulk for things like asphalt replacement , which yield a better price due to Brookhaven’s size compared to the smaller villages; and creating a digital record keeping and storage system.

“We expect this grant to help us reduce costs to our taxpayers and save our taxpayers millions of dollars,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in announcing the win for the town prior to the June 14 public meeting. “So while we’re delighted that we won, out of all of the municipalities in the state, we were selected — we’re very happy for our taxpayers.”

The supervisor estimated in July 2017 in total, the projects would result in a savings of about $66 million for taxpayers – a return of more than three times the investment made by the state. He thanked town’s Chief of Operations Matt Miner for his work in crafting the proposal, and Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville) for going to Albany to present the town’s plan. Romaine added that winning the grant wouldn’t have been possible if not for the work of the entire town board and other staff members from all town departments.

“We worked very hard — we all contributed,” the supervisor said.

In a 2017 interview, Romaine and Miner both stressed the importance of allowing the villages to maintain their autonomy despite the consolidation of services. The projects will emphasize ways to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in government services while allowing incorporated villages to maintain individual oversight. Romaine also dispelled possible concerns about loss of jobs. He said he expects the phase out of antiquated departments through retirements, stating no layoffs will be required to make the consolidation projects happen.

Supervisor Ed Romaine is taking a leadership role in trying to streamline town government services. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town is looking to get by with a little help from its friends.

The town is among six other New York State municipalities vying to be selected as the recipient of a $20 million grant that will be awarded in the fall to the applicant that demonstrates the most innovative ways to reduce property taxes through the consolidation of shared government services and increased efficiency. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition in November as a way to inspire local governments to reduce the cost of living for residents in the state. Each of the nine incorporated villages within Brookhaven passed resolutions identifying the areas in which a consolidation of services makes sense, and officially pledged partnership with the town in pursuing the projects, which would be funded by the $20 million grant.  In addition to the nine villages, leadership from ambulance, school, fire and library districts, as well as special districts like sewer and erosion, were consulted and will remain involved in brainstorming ways to make shared services more efficient and cost effective going forward.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes.”

— Ed Romaine

“Property taxes remain the most burdensome tax in New York and with this competition, we are incentivizing local governments to band together to think outside the box, streamline their bureaucracies, cut costs and deliver real relief to their taxpayers,” Cuomo said in November. “New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) explained his interest in applying for the grant for the town during an interview at Town Hall July 7.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes,” Romaine said.

Brookhaven’s application included 16 proposed projects that would accomplish the stated goal of the competition, according to Town Chief of Operations Matt Miner, who played a vital leadership role in applying for the grant.

“We’re doing duplicated services — why can’t one municipality do ‘that,’” Miner said. He said some of the projects would include the consolidation of tax collection and tax assessor services; utilizing Brookhaven’s staffed maintenance workers rather than putting out bids for contracts; creating a regional salt facility to be used during snow removal; using town contracts for things like asphalt replacement, which yield a better price due to Brookhaven’s size compared to the smaller villages; and creating digital record keeping and storage.

The supervisor said in total, the projects would result in a savings of about $66 million for taxpayers, or a return of more than three times the investment made by the state in disseminating the grant dollars.

Romaine and Minor both stressed the importance of allowing the towns to maintain their autonomy despite the consolidation of services. The projects will emphasize ways to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in the administration of government services while allowing incorporated villages to continue overseeing themselves. Romaine also dispelled possible concerns about loss of jobs as a result of the consolidation of services. He said he expects the phase out of antiquated departments through retirements, stating no layoffs will be required to make the consolidation projects happen.

“New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

— Andrew Cuomo

Port Jefferson Village approved a resolution to partner with Brookhaven in pursuit of the grant during a June 26 board meeting. The resolution stated the village’s interest in pursuing projects related to enhanced services in the highway department and department of public works; the purchasing portal; electronic records management and storage; and several others.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview she was on board for any initiatives that would result in savings for taxpayers, though maintaining Port Jeff’s autonomy and independence is of the utmost importance to her.

“The reason why you incorporate is so you have home rule,” Garant said, adding she has concerns about the management of a government that would in effect be growing, should the town win the competition. “The proof will be in the pudding. It’s all about who is going to manage these programs and what level of competence they have.”

The winner of the $20 million grant is expected to be announced this fall. Representatives from the town will head to Albany next week to present their case to a panel, but for reaching Phase II of the competition, Brookhaven has already received a $50,000 grant, which was used to develop project proposals for the application.

As another aspect of the application, the town passed a resolution in June that formed the Council of Governments, a committee that will be led by the town and comprised of leaders of the various villages and districts that will meet quarterly to discuss common issues. The first meeting of its kind is slated for September.