Magazine article Government Finance Review

Consolidating a Village and Town's Financial Functions: A Success Story from Ossining, New York

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Consolidating a Village and Town's Financial Functions: A Success Story from Ossining, New York

Article excerpt

Consolidation, becoming more widely used by leaders in government, is nothing new in corporate America--many companies have merged or consolidated their operations in an attempt to reduce operating costs. Neither is the concept new to governments, as many governmental entities have discussed consolidation for years. It was not until recently, however, that a spate of meaningful consolidations have been attempted on the public side.

Why are consolidations being attempted now? The answer is quite simple: economics. It makes sense economically to consolidate similar functions in order to eliminate duplicate efforts. Most governmental entities provide the same types of services, such as police protection, sanitation, public works and tax collection. By consolidating similar services, one can expect savings through economies of scale. It was this type of thinking that led officials in the Town of and Village of Ossining, New York, to undertake consolidation of their financial departments.

Background: The Town and the Village

The Town of Ossining encompasses three municipalities: the unincorporated area of the Town of Ossining (called "Town Outside"), the Village of Ossining and the Village of Briarcliff Manor. In total, approximately 34,728 people live in the three municipalities. The Town of Ossining is governed by an elected supervisor and four council members, who comprise the town board. The town government administers state and federal elections; collects town, county and school taxes; and appoints advisory boards.

The Village of Ossining is a chartered village and is administered under the manager form of government. The board of trustees is an elected body and consists of a mayor and four trustees. It adopts laws, establishes policies and makes various appointments.

The Village of Briarcliff Manor was incorporated in 1902 and is governed by a mayor and four trustees. It also uses the manager form of government. Its functions are the same as that of Village of Ossining board. Because the Village of Briarcliff Manor lies in two different municipalities, officials chose not to be part of consolidation at this time.

What made the undertaking of consolidation in Ossining slightly unusual is that towns normally are much larger entities than villages and usually are dominant. In this case, however, the Village of Ossining was the larger entity and was better suited to assume the financial responsibilities of both municipalities.

The Village of Ossining had three main operating funds: general, water and sewer, as well as debt service. Its budget for those funds totaled approximately $20 million. The Town of Ossining had a town general fund, town outside fund, a highway fund and various sewer district funds. Its budget totaled approximately $6 million.

The Town of Ossining employed a controller who was responsible for the financial operations of the town. The position was a political appointment made by the supervisor and the town board. The town's books were all kept on manual ledgers except for payroll, which was performed on a computer.

The village, on the other hand, had elected treasurers since its inception. In the general election of 1988, the last elected treasurer ran on a platform to make future treasurers appointed rather than elected. The reason was that the village had grown to such an extent that financial operations were becoming increasingly complex and it would be better served with a professional accountant responsible for them.

The main factor that led to consolidation of the town and village was economics: the goal was to save taxpayers money. As is the case with most communities, political leaders in Ossining were under heavy pressure to reduce the burden on local taxpayers. Since personnel services constituted the major expenditure, the way to mitigate higher taxes was to consolidate functions and reduce the number of personnel in the process. …

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