County aims for $20M grant

FONDA — Montgomery County has submitted a 12-point Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan to New York state in a bid to win a $20 million grant.

Some of the major proposals in the plan include a $5.6 million joint town courthouse and municipal center to be built at the site of the former Beech-Nut baby food manufacturing plant in Canajoharie, as well as consolidating the town and village of Canajoharie, studying consolidation of the village of Fort Plain and the town of Minden, combining Montgomery County’s mental health and public health departments for a savings of $85,000 per year, looking at village police department consolidations, going to a countywide property assessment system achieved incrementally over five years and a joint salt storage and fuel depot.

Montgomery County was one of six local governments chosen by New York state to participate in a contest aimed at looking for ways to consolidate local government services. For the past several months County Executive Matt Ossenfort, along with local leaders and a team of researchers from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University have been looking for ways the county and its local governments can save money.

“I would say that this plan is more of a vision than anything,” Ossenfort said. “In the amount of time that we had we put together 12 good items each of which can either save money directly, avoid costs in the future or improve shared services relationships and the overall service.”

Ossenfort said the rules of the state contest do not require an “add-up” of projected savings for the total plan. He said savings for some of the different projects are calculated in different ways including “avoided costs.”

Ossenfort said if the seven towns of Montgomery County were to each build new 7,000 square foot courthouse facilities that are in compliance with the safety and security standards imposed by the New York state Office of Court Administration, it would cost approximately $15 million.

“We calculated what it would cost for each court facility to be compliant with state standards, and then subtracted that from the costs of what it would cost to build one facility for them all, so now you’re looking at more of an avoided cost by providing an enhanced service, if each of them had to do on their own it would be significantly more expensive,” Ossenfort said.

Under the proposed joint town courthouse plan, justices would continue to be elected at the town level, but would preside over cases in Canajoharie at a 28,000-square-foot courthouse with two court rooms, with security provided by a county sheriff’s deputy stationed at the building.

One of the controversial proposals in the plan would be dissolving the Fort Plain village police department and replacing it with a dedicated sheriff’s deputy patrol car for the village.

Fort Plain Mayor Tom Quackenbush said his village board recently passed five resolutions supporting looking for different ways to save money through consolidation. Quackenbush said his village currently spends $330,000 annually on a roster of 8 to 12 part-time village police officers and one full-time chief.

“Right now [the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office] always has one car in the center of the county, one in the east and one in the west, if they need backup and something is going on they’ll call the villages as back-up, or they’ll call another zone car. What’s been proposed to us isn’t that. What’s been proposed to us is we would keep that amount of coverage in Montgomery County and if we were happy with just that type of coverage we wouldn’t have to spend another nickel. That’s the coverage we would get, but no guarantees of any patrols, but they went a step further and said ‘No we’ll give you a car 24/7.’ You’ll have your own dedicated car and that would be like a fourth car,” Quackenbush said. “Now does that mean [the sheriff’s deputy] might get called out once in a while? Yeah, but now people scream and say we’re unprotected, and I say no. Yesterday on my way home from wherever I was coming back into town from at 4:45 p.m. our police cruiser was marching down Route 5 with the red lights on going to Canjo’. Well, is our village unprotected? I guess.”

Ossenfort said he had two big takeaways from the consolidation project.

“There were two things that really stuck out to me. The first was that there’s not a lot of meat on the bone in local government in Montgomery County, and that there are areas where we can find immediate savings, but it would require a different delivery of the service. The other takeaway was the willingness of local governments to work together and explore some new and different ideas,” Ossenfort said. “When we first started this process I was very skeptical, and I actually hosted a meeting in January with the state and a number of local officials to just take the pulse of the room and see how much interest was there, and I was very surprised with that meeting and I was very positively surprised throughout the process with the willingness of the different municipalities to participate in looking at some new ideas.”

Ossenfort said he will unveil a more detailed report on all 12 of the consolidation proposals at a 4 p.m. presentation at Fulton Montgomery Community College July 12.

By Patricia Older

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