The Town of Brookhaven is looking to almost completely revamp its constituent services, both directly and through the many taxing districts — fire, ambulance, library, school, etc. — that are under the town’s jurisdiction.
Through a plan called Brookhaven United, plans are laid out in 16 steps and three categories to consolidate, merge, expand or change operational services and capital expenditures. The opportunity comes due to a $20 million grant received from the state earlier this year. Brookhaven won the grant in a competitive process despite many of its large county competitors. The grant will allow the municipality an opportunity to make government more efficient, and use more “shared services” in an effort to alleviate taxpayer burden. To be clear, the plan does not lower the tax rate for residents or help the town’s “bottom line,” but will offset what would potentially be increases in tax rates due to the many services local governments provide. The $19.7 million grant will be matched with over $57 million in local funding for the combined 16 projects.
“It’s not for my budget, it’s for all of our budgets, so that we can put together a better town, we can become more efficient with shared services, from school districts, to villages, to all types of jurisdictions within Brookhaven Town,” said supervisor Ed Romaine.
Overall, the plan is expected to save $61 million over five years and $100 million in 10 years of application. The three categories of improvements include dissolution or consolidation, government efficiency projects, and information technology.
Some of the projects are seemingly small or mundane, like making all purchasing efforts electronic or digitizing the entire town records system. Others are quite expansive and have begun or are already completed, such as the disbandment of the Village of Mastic Beach. It was the first major project to occur and was officially completed on Dec. 31, 2017. But the real work is happening now, as the town absorbs all of the former village’s services. The town has also pledged to rebuild Mastic Beach, which started last month with the new Mastic Beach Ambulance headquarters. Officials believe this was an important part of the application to the state grant, from which this project did not benefit financially.
Similarly, the town has already begun removing or consolidating districts that are redundant. Out of 112 districts, 24 are under review for immediate action, including four water districts that will be taken over by Suffolk County Water Authority, and six erosion control districts on Fire Island. Thirteen inactive districts have been removed and the process has started to transfer the funds for the water districts and develop a report for the erosion control districts.
Shared services are a major part of the proposal, which would require municipalities to jump on board to partner with the town. The town proposed combining tax collection services for the villages of Bellport, Patchogue, Port Jefferson and Shoreham.
Another arm of the plan, information technology, calls for several major projects. The IT Nerve Center would be a “consolidated and virtualized server farm,” which would house all hardware in a common-use facility. There would be a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office, which contains programs like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and would eliminate the need for local servers or licenses throughout municipalities. It would also make the IT help desk available to villages and libraries who choose to use the service. The town would also be purchasing a new cybersecurity system to work alongside existing programs. This project is in its early stages, but is expected to cost about $1.18 million with $1.01 million in grant funds.
The town also plans to expand agreements with special districts and municipalities to digitize records storage and management. This would include the digitization of documents as well as the creation of a regional archive of records. Town clerk Donna Lent said that archives are currently stored in a facility in Bellport, and digitization would allow electronic access rather than a need to order paper copies or a trip to Bellport. The supervisor is looking at purchasing a building that could house these operations. This project is expected to cost about $7.15 million with $4.38 million in grant funds.
The town is also looking at a plan to consolidate registrar and vital statistics services into the town clerk’s position. The town clerk already does this for the Village of Lake Grove and is in discussions with other town villages. Under this project, all documents will be available in one location and there would be no need for villages to spend money on replacement systems. Lent said the proposal is also being supported by the New York State Department of Health, which would like the town clerk to assume registrar services for villages in the town.
After presenting the plan to district officials from across the town, officials are now looking to show the plan on a more personal level. Romaine offered to meet with municipal leaders to show how the different projects could work for them and their residents.
“We want to make sure that the projects that we’re putting out there have some value, can save you money, and can benefit our mutual constituents,” Romaine said.
The next steps in the process are to move forward on these 16 projects, as well as meet with local leaders to discuss involvement in shared services opportunities. Project leaders are coordinating monthly with the NY Department of State, which awarded the grant. They are also planning future meetings of the council of governments and with interested district leaders. For more information, contact Brookhaven Town chief of operations Matt Miner, who is overseeing the entire consolidation and efficiency process.