Rensselaerville says it’s already sharing services, chafes at state mandate

RENSSELAERVILLE — A discussion of county-wide shared services left Rensselaerville residents with more questions than answers.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy told The Enterprise last month that there would not be monetary penalties for opting out of shared services. He said the county was on target to meet the Aug. 1 deadline.

The special town board meeting held in Rensselaerville’s town hall last month went over what the town was expected to do as part of the state-required county-wide shared services initiative. The state would have each county in New York State organize its town supervisors, mayors, and other civic leaders under the supervision of the county executive to develop a plan by Aug. 1 that would save money by sharing services among municipalities and the county.

Following this, the plan would be modified, reviewed in at least three public hearings, and then voted on by the panel of municipal leaders by Sept. 15. If it is not approved, the plan is reset to deadlines for 2018. If it is approved, it must be finalized and presented to the public by Oct. 15. Rensselaerville Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury noted these fall dates could interfere with the town’s budget development.

“Let’s be honest, by Oct. 15, we’re buried in budgets,” she said, at the June meeting.

Many Hilltown supervisors and highway superintendents have balked at the plan, saying they already share services among the various towns. Rensselaerville Highway Superintendent Randall Bates told The Enterprise last month that his department works with the towns of Broome and Conesville in Schoharie County; Durham in Greene County; and Westerlo, Berne, Knox, and New Scotland in Albany County. Efforts like sharing equipment rentals have saved tens of thousands of dollars per year, he said at the meeting.

He noted at the meeting that the highway department had shared services “probably since there was a highway department.”

Efforts like these had audience members asking what more could be done to save money with shared services.

Lounsbury stated that a consolidation of the county and town highway departments would not likely benefit either group.

“I don’t know if the the county plows are capable,” she said, of clearing town roads.

Bates agreed, saying that the town uses specialized equipment that would not be suitable for county roads.

At the meeting, audience members were wary of consolidation due to the differences they saw between the Hilltowns and the city of Albany, and even outlying towns like New Scotland, where the county Department of Public Works is based.

“Even the mindset is different,” said one audience member.

Actions like the dissolution of the town’s volunteer ambulance service, which began less than two weeks ago, and its replacement with county services, do not count for the new state requirements, said Lounsbury. Shared services already in place do not count either.

Lounsbury then brought up the idea of a written agreement that would document the shared services already conducted between Rensselaerville and other towns. Bates said he would be in support of such an agreement.

“Whether they like it or not, this is our shared services,” said Lounsbury. “Whether we have practiced it or not, we are going to make it official.”

One audience member noted that, without agreements in writing, it would look like nothing was being shared between towns, and a document could help change that.

“To way up there, it looks like no one is getting along,” he said. “If you give them what you’re already doing in writing, and then you actually get on board, you get the other towns on board with these agreements as well; well, you’re already sharing services.”

Albany County has recruited the Rockefeller Institute to conduct a study of the various municipal governments in order to discover where savings could be made. However, at the June 20 meeting, Lounsbury said she had not yet met with a representative from the think tank.

Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute said this week that he and his partner, Tom Cetrino, had a conference call with Lounsbury on June 28. Lounsbury could not be reached for comment on the call.

Both Lounsbury and McCoy have expressed similar sentiments on the initiative being an unfunded mandate that was being rushed into completion.

“It’s a very short timeline,” Lounsbury said at the June meeting. “It is not giving everyone a chance to really think it through.”

Lounsbury said at the meeting that, while it was not likely the entire town board could meet with the Rockefeller Institute representative, the meeting was an opportunity for a discussion between the town board, highway department, and residents, although she was still not completely sure of what was at stake.

She said she believed the town couldn’t opt out of the initiative, but may be able to not participate in certain aspects.

“When they give us the plan, there may be parts that we don’t want to partake in,” she noted.

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