Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Niagara County lawmakers are tasking a new government panel with devising shared services and consolidation agreements between the county and municipal governments with an eye toward cutting costs and red tape.
Public Works Committee Chairman Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, announced that Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, will head up a newly created ad hoc committee on governmental shared services and consolidation. The two veteran lawmakers will work closely with town supervisors and city government leaders to identify ways to limit county and municipal costs, largely through re-evaluating the structure of county and local government services.
Wojtaszek also indicated he would reach out to the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce to participate in the consolidation discussions, hoping the non-governmental organization could provide what he called "an outsider's perspective - and the clear eyes of business leaders who have to balance their books and innovate every single day."
Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, a fiscal conservative who has made controlling county tax rates a top priority for county government during his five years leading the Majority Caucus, called the creation of the government-cutting commission "necessary, prudent, and far-sighted."
"John Syracuse is a committed fiscal conservative who can safely be described as a 'budget hawk,' " Updegrove said of the five-term lawmaker he and Wojtaszek asked to head the ad hoc committee. "Legislator Syracuse has one single piece of guidance as he proceeds with his new charge: Cut or contain government spending wherever and whenever practical. I know he will deliver results."
Updegrove also pointed to Syracuse's leadership as chairman of the Legislature's ad hoc refuse district committee and his willingness to consider fundamental restructuring of that government-run service as proof he is the right lawmaker to task with cost-conscious reforms.
When notified Monday night of Syracuse's pending nomination to head the government consolidation panel, Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, shared Updegrove's assessment.
"Legislator Syracuse is one of the most principled budget cutters in the Legislature," he said. "At the same time, though, John is committed to getting the most 'bang' for the taxpayers' buck. He's a solid choice to head this new effort."
Wojtaszek, who introduced Syracuse at Tuesday night's press conference, said the move should benefit county government, towns and cities alike.
"No longer will we accept 'Because that's the way it's always been done' as a reason to continue inefficient government service structures," Wojtaszek said. "Legislature Syracuse has some broad latitude to examine ways we can cut the size of government and protect our county taxpayers, while working with towns and cities to ensure they are best positioned to provide services our residents expect."
At least one town supervisor expressed confidence about proposals the committee on governmental shared services and consolidation will generate. Supervisor Joseph Jastrzemski, R-Wilson, pointed to past outside-the-box thinking that had lowered costs for Wilson taxpayers and said he hoped to see more of the same.
"Some years ago, the Town of Wilson and the City of Niagara Falls agreed to share assessing services," Jastrzemski recalled. "Now, aside from a mutual desire to cut the costs associated with government, Wilson and Niagara Falls wouldn't seem to have that much in common. But when it comes to good government, a desire to save our taxpayers money and protect their services is enough. I know Legislator Syracuse, I've known him for years, and I've worked with him. When he says we're going to cut government's costs, I believe him, and want to help him."
Syracuse shared Jastrzemski's optimism.
"We are not here to merely stand back and watch government run itself," Syracuse said. "The taxpayers of Niagara County have asked us to make government cost-effective, and to make tough choices to get there. That means rolling up our sleeves and doing hard work, and keeping an open mind. There cannot be sacred cows when it comes to controlling government costs."