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Shared Services: A voice from reality-land

Back in early January, we wrote a column for Governing magazine about “shared services,” titled “Why are Governments So Hesitant to Share Services.” Soon after its release, we got a very insightful note from one of our regular correspondents, Jay Gsell, county manager of Genesee County, New York. A native of New Jersey, Jay has been a local government professional since 1975 in seven different localities. He’s married. And enjoys the music of Carlos Santana.

We thought we’d share his comments with you, and here they are:

With regard to Shared Services and the seeming reluctance to fully embrace the realities of 21st Century local government service delivery, maybe we need to start with the underlying principle: “That which doesn’t kill us, serves to make us stronger.”

Among the challenges that come into play, as we dip our toes into the “shared services” pond, are: protectionism, job security, fear of lost control, 19th Century notions of governance and often the presumption that the level of government closest to the taxpayer is the most responsive to taxpayers.

Here in New York State, you would think that our 1,700 local public sector taxing entities would be falling over themselves to be more cost efficient and effective and do the state’s shared services bidding. What has become more apparent is that for years shared services and consolidation have occurred and have been providing fiscal and service benefits, but the real big ticket items or more politically complicated/nuanced efforts are the hardest to get our collective hearts and minds around and take a stab at.

So what will it take to move further? We’ve had success stories in Genesee County, New York including joint health departments, youth bureaus, fuel farms, highway construction equipment sharing and so on. In New York State, and I suspect elsewhere, there’s hope for county-wide school districts, regional county jails (as is the case in North Carolina and Virginia) and more. When do we get gumption to go to the next level of these initiatives?


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