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Mark Thomas will direct project to assist seven counties
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mark Thomas spoke at the news conference about the Regional Intermunicipal Services project he's directing in seven counties.

--Justin Goetz photo courtesy of the
Dunkirk Observer.

A project that will promote shared services between municipalities in seven Western New York counties was unveiled today at SUNY Fredonia.

President Dennis L. Hefner announced that the university received $100,250 through a contract with the Office of the State Comptroller to operate the “Regional Intermunicipal Services Project” out of its Center for Rural Regional Development and Governance.

The project will be directed by the Hon. Mark W. Thomas, former Chautauqua County Executive and author of the proposal. “SUNY Fredonia has made a major commitment to supporting projects that assist the economic development of our region,” President Hefner said. “This current joint initiative with the State Comptroller's Office is another in the long list of collaborative projects undertaken by our Center for Rural Regional Development and Governance over the past nine years. We look forward to working with Mark Thomas on this important initiative.”

The funding covers ten months of activity to increase awareness, help municipal leaders apply for the new state grants, and create a database that warehouses and centralizes pertinent information of shared and consolidated services that are already underway in Western New York.

This is the first time the Center for Rural Regional Development and Governance will extend its mission to foster more efficient government beyond the borders of Chautauqua County, Center Director Leonard E. Faulk said. “The Intermunicipal Services project will aid our region in its movement toward world class, globally competitive regional governance structures,” Dr. Faulk, a consultant to the project, said. “It meshes perfectly with the Center’s mission, which is to foster more efficient government through the sharing of regional resources and responsibilities.”

Mr. Thomas said the project is timely. “The current New York State budget contains $25 million in incentive aid available on a competitive grant basis to local governments that want to move forward with shared services or consolidation of services,” he said. “Local government leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to tap into these dollars and get projects off the ground. We will help them do that.”

The project reaches out to municipalities in seven counties: Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Orleans, Genesee, Niagara, and Wyoming. It lasts through January 2007.

State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi welcomed SUNY Fredonia’s role in improving local government. “Local governments provide a variety of important services to residents, and today many are being forced to deliver these services with fewer resources,” Comptroller Hevesi said. “My office is looking at many ways to help local governments improve their operations and deliver services to the public in the most cost efficient way possible. We are excited to tap into the expertise at SUNY Fredonia to help this effort and are confident that the University's work will have a long-term impact on municipalities all around the State."

Research began in April and will continue throughout the summer to identify the “Best Practices” of shared services and consolidation of services initiatives which have succeeded already in Western New York. “By showcasing these examples, describing how neighboring communities have saved money, made services more efficient, and improved the services to local residents, the advantages and possibilities of shared services will become better-known to leaders in government, business and academia,” Mr. Thomas said. “This knowledge will enable them to start planning their own shared services endeavors.”

In September and October, the “Best Practices” will be showcased in a series of five forums conducted at community college campuses in the region: Jamestown Community College (Jamestown, Olean, and Dunkirk campuses), Genesee Community College (Batavia), and Niagara County Community College (Sanborn).

Mr. Thomas has led intermunicipal services initiatives in Chautauqua County and around the state since beginning his public service 14 years ago. A two-term County Executive (1998-2005), Mr. Thomas served as president of the New York State County Executives Association and he spearheaded negotiations that led to the state take-over of the cost of New York’s Family Health Plus from the counties. This set the stage for 2005 negotiations with the state that led to a Medicaid Cap, the largest Medicaid finance reform in 40 years. As Chautauqua County Executive, Thomas was a leader in the effort to consolidate the City of Jamestown (911) emergency dispatch with the county system. He negotiated the successful effort to develop a city/town inter-municipal agreement for the take-over of bridges from the towns and industrial corridor streets from Chautauqua County’s two cities. As Pomfret Town Supervisor, Thomas was a leader in the innovative Chadwick Bay regional governance initiatives. These efforts resulted in a regional comprehensive plan and joint infrastructure and economic development activities across 7 municipalities in Northern Chautauqua County. Mr. Thomas, a graduate of the University of Illinois, began public service when he was elected to the Town of Pomfret Council in 1992. He was elected Town Supervisor in 1994.

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