County releases more shared services details

Members of the Montgomery County Shared Services Panel raise their hands in support of the county’s plan to save taxes through shared services and consolidation Wednesday at Fulton Montgomery Community College. (The Leader-Herald/Jason Subik)

JOHNSTOWN — When talking with town and village residents in Montgomery County about the “grand vision” of the county’s 12-point Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort says he was most often asked about how fall leaf collection would be affected.

“The feedback was ‘Who is going to pick up the leaves in the fall? Can I still bring them to the curb or will I have to put them in the back?’ With our plan, that would be the same exact service provided by the same exact person, just now being employed by the town,” Ossenfort said. “The town resident, who didn’t get the village’s sewer and water services, would ask ‘Am I going to subsidize the village services?’ and the answer to that is no, because we will create a special district so that the people who receive the services will pay for the services.”

On Wednesday, Ossenfort chaired a meeting of Montgomery County’s Shared Services Panel at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and released more of the details of the county’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan, which the county is entering into a contest with six other municipalities in a bid to win a $20 million state grant.

Some of the highlights of the plan including new savings data released Wednesday include:

∫ Consolidating the town and village of Canajoharie, estimated savings of $330,000 in the first year, mostly from transfering police duties to the sheriff’s office.

∫ Shared municipal building and combined town courthouse built on the western side of the former Beech-Nut plant in Canajoharie. The plan subtracts the cost of renovating the plant to create the shared building from the estimated $17.3 million cost of upgrading all of the town court houses to comply with state standards, for a net estimated “avoided cost” of $13.1 million.

∫ Law enforcement consolidation, including the dissolution of the Fort Plain Police Department, is estimated to save $332,000 annually, about 50 percent of Fort Plain’s tax levy.

∫ An electronic records management plan to digitize approximately 70 percent of the local government documents in Montgomery County. The plan to digitize the documents would cost $1.6 million, but the estimated savings over a five-year period would be $6.7 million.

∫ Creation of a consolidated repair facility for government equipment, annual savings $272,755

∫ Regional Wastewater Consolidation feasibility study, which would look at whether savings could be achieved through consolidating and sharing sewer services between St. Johnsville, Canajoharie and the Montgomery County Sewer District.

∫ Countywide assessment by creating one assessing unit with the estimated benefits of fewer tax shifts and one equalization rate for all of the properties in Montgomery County

∫ Establishing the “Maxwell Laboratory” in Montgomery County, which would continue the county’s collaboration with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Government. The laboratory would study the potential tax savings from government consolidation plans.

By a show of hands, the members of the Montgomery County Shared Services Panel in attendance Wednesday endorsed the plan, with none raising a hand to oppose it.

The Shared Services Panel — which consists of elected leaders from the towns and villages of Montgomery County and the city of Amsterdam — is mandated by the 2018 state budget which tasked all of the state’s counties with crafting a tax savings plan achieved through shared services and submitting the plan to the state by Oct. 15. New York state is offering counties one-time matching state funds up to $200,000 per initiative for the net value of the tax savings for implementing a shared services proposal.

Ossenfort said most of Montgomery County’s entry into the $20 million consolidation and efficiency contest will also be submitted as the county’s shared services tax savings plan, even though they are separate state programs.

“It’s essentially the same plan,” Ossenfort said.

Ossenfort said one additional element that will be included in the tax savings plan will be a report showing the savings the county achieves through sharing equipment with local governments, a bid to get the one-time state matching funding for ongoing savings from existing shared services.

Winning the $20 million state grant contest will be a two-step process. Montgomery County will make its presentation to New York state officials in Albany on Wednesday, in a closed door session, with the other five participants in the contest prohibited from watching the presentation. If Montgomery County is selected as the winner, at least one local government dissolution in the county’s plan must happen before the $20 million grant is released to the county.

Ossenfort said Montgomery County’s plan includes at least three potential dissolutions, the consolidation of Canajoharie’s town and village government, the dissolution of the Fort Plain Police Department and the feasibility study of combining Minden and Fort Plain. He said the local governments involved have all passed resolutions endorsing the concept of consolidating services, which he thinks will help the county’s case for why it should win the money.

“I think we’ve got a good shot,” Ossenfort said, but added that he thinks creating the plan will benefit his county with or without the state funding award.

Canajoharie Deputy Village Mayor Jeff Baker said he believes the general public is not against the consolidation ideas.

“The press has covered some of these initial meetings and it hasn’t generated any feedback, and people haven’t been banging on our door asking questions. Constituents aren’t upset. People probably have questions, but they probably don’t know how to get the answers. Nobody has come to a village meeting demanding answers,” he said. “If people like an idea, they usually don’t say much. If they didn’t, they’d be outraged or giving comment, and that hasn’t happened. Whether it does or doesn’t, that will be at a public where they can ask questions.”

Ossenfort said he believes the local governments in Montgomery County have been willing to look at consolidation in part because the county has one overall elected leader, himself as county executive, advocating for change. He said all of the tragic flooding over the past ten years, which devastated the western part of Montgomery County, may also have contributed to a sense of unity among the villages and towns as they worked together to endure the crisis and rebuild.

By Patricia Older

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