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Lansing Schools Near Cayuga Lake

With Albany leaning on local governments to consolidate services, and even, in some cases to consolidate villages with their surrounding towns, the Town and Village of Lansing and Lansing School District are among several municipalities in Tompkins County that are struggling to comply.  County Administrator Joe Mareane has been meeting with supervisors and mayors from governments within Tompkins County to work out a plan for sharing services that will satisfy Albany.  But some local officials are finding the process difficult.

"I am finding it very frustrating," said Mayor Donald Hartill at a recent Village of Lansing trustees meeting.  "I'm going along because I have to, but it certainly isn't a positive experience.  At the first meeting I argued to just tell the (state) government to go stuff it.  That didn't go over very well.  It's this continual relentless trying to manage from the top.  It doesn't work too well."

The Town and school district are having somewhat better luck.  The Town Recreation Department has taken over some athletic programs, including cheer-leading, and have long shared facilities.

"You will see some more consolidation with the Rec program," Lansing School Superintendent Chris Pettograsso said Monday.  "We have more athletic facilities now with our two softball fields and our baseball field, there are ore options for them to do more here, which means they can do more on their sites."

There has also been some disagreement over the benefit of the Town and Village of Lansing sharing snow plowing.  Currently each is responsible for its own plowing.  Town officials say it would be more economical for the Town to plow the Village, but Hartill insists the Village can do it more economically and better by going it on its own.

As is common with State mandates, credit is given for new initiatives, but not for existing ones, making it hard for communities that actually comply with the mandate to be recognized for doing so.  That may impact state funding.

Hartill says that his municipality already shares as many services as make sense, but doing more just to please Albany would actually be less efficient.

"BOCES has a division that is doing the accounting for all the school districts," he said.  "They're thinking about branching out into personnel management.  There is that opportunity.  We have a Clerk/treasurer.  it's hard to imaging having half a Clerk/Treasurer if they took over some of that.  That kind of thing just doesn't make any sense."

Mareane's group, The Tompkins County Shared Services Panel, comprised of all supervisors and mayors in Tompkins County, will hold the first of three public hearings on June 21st, 5:30pm at Tompkins County Legislature Chambers in Ithaca.  The hearings are to receive public input as the The Tompkins County Shared Services Panel attempts to comply with the County-wide Shared Services Property Tax Savings Plan Law.  The law requires each of the state's 57 county administrators to submit a 'Shared Services Plan' to be reviewed by the County Legislature by August 1st.

Pettograsso says the school district plans to continue working closely with Town officials to share resources.

"We've met with the Town Supervisor and the Recreation Department Director to review any possible ways we can consolidate services," Pettograsso said.  "We will continue those conversations about what we can do today, and what we might be able to do five years down the line."

But not all officials, in the Lansings, at least, are encouraged.  The Village of Lansing is planning a joint sewer project with the Village of Cayuga Heights, but Hartill says finding enough to satisfy the mandate is a futile exercise.

"The problem is that we're already doing everything that has any real merit and not getting any credit for it," Hartill said.  "This is in some sense a futile effort in terms of any real benefits.  This mandate needs to be satisfied.  So there's a series of meetings every two weeks to try to get something together by August.  Then there can be a public hearing, hoops can be jumped through, and life is good."

Mareane is also skeptical about finding significant savings through sharing services.  In his latest report to the County Legislature, he warned that legislators should not expect much to come from this effort, saying there is little in the way of 'low hanging fruit'.  He noted that a Law Enforcement Shared Services study is also underway, and said the report on that initiative will "contain options available and will be released later in the summer."

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