County panel of leaders adopt shared-services plan to save $9.7M over several years

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
The final plan: Rockefeller Institute President James Malatras, far left, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, and Thomas Centrino of the Benjamin Center, center, discuss the shared-services plan with municipal leaders like town of Bethlehem Supervisor John Clarkson, right, before these leaders voted to adopt the plan last week. Both the Rockefeller Institute and the Benjamin Center worked to develop a plan for Albany County.

ALBANY COUNTY — Last week, just in time for the state-set deadline, local leaders from throughout Albany County voted in favor of an eight-point plan to cut expenses and lower property taxes, with proposals ranging from shared facilities to a health-insurance consortium.

The plan is expected to save $9.7 million county-wide over the course of several years as it is enacted.

At the meeting on Sept. 13, all town, village, and city leaders voted “yes.” Village mayors William Misuraca, of Ravena, and Frank A. Leak, of Colonie, were absent. school district superintendents Brian Hunt, of Voorheesville, and Maureen A. Long, of Menands, were the only district leaders to vote “yes”; other superintendents were absent. Thomas Centrino, of the Benjamin Center, one of the think-tanks that developed the plan, said school district leaders discussed the plan in a conference call, and all were in support of it.

With Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy’s “yes” vote, there were a total of 20 votes in favor of the plan — Albany County needed 16 votes to move forward with adopting it.

As part of the state-mandated process, the county must host a public presentation of the plan before Oct. 15. A plan and its certification must also be sent by the county to the director of the New York State Division of the Budget. The shared-services initiative is part of the 2018 state budget.

McCoy described the plan as a “working document,” since even as it was being adopted, certain projections were expected to possibly change, and the towns that had agreed to participate in certain proposals in the document could exit or enter these at any time.

“Even if you do vote in favor of this, you’re not locked in,” McCoy said, of the municipal leaders.

Mike McLaughlin, director of policy and research for Albany County, told The Enterprise on Tuesday that the state will match 50 percent of the amount of property taxes saved by either the county or municipality. The match is currently only to occur in 2018, meaning municipalities that opted out of items this year cannot get the funds matched if they opt in later on. However, McLaughlin noted that there are discussions to expand the matching program to 2019, as some items in the plan do not take effect until then.

James Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute, one of the think-tanks tasked with creating the final plan, said he expects $1,556,000 to be saved in 2018; the plan is expected to overall save $9.7 million over the course of several years.

 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Tight squeeze: Voorheesville Central School District’s school buses come within inches of the walls of the current bus garage. Rather than build a new garage for $7 million, the district is looking to lease space from the Albany County Department of Public Works’s Voorheesville garage, as part of the county’s multi-faceted shared-services plan.

 

Eight proposals

The proposals include:

— Adopting a county-wide energy program that will allow municipalities to collectively purchase utilities with the county, with the intention of contracts offering lower prices. Municipalities and school districts could opt in or out of contracts;

— Creating a county-wide health consortium, in which municipal employees could purchase insurance through the county. The plan states that the current legislation is not clear in whether insurance consortiums can cover municipalities with under 50 employees at an experience-based rate rather than community-based. A state insurance law also does not allow public-sector consortia to refund commissions to municipalities and school districts that are part of the group, increasing insurance costs. According to McCoy, a county-wide consortium couldn’t be created until these state laws are changed to streamline. Should a consortium be put in place, it is expected to save $1.5 million by 2019;

— Sharing equipment in a program in which Albany County would act as a clearinghouse, listing equipment that can be borrowed by one municipality or school district from another. The county intends to set up a memorandum of understanding for the program, although many towns have already been sharing equipment for years;

— Sharing personnel among municipalities. The county intends to create a database of personnel in 2018 for municipalities to look for shared staff, and, in particular, specialty personnel such as dog-control officers, engineers, and attorneys. For example, the town of Rensselaerville is interested in sharing a dog-control officer with the town of Berne, according to the plan. The county also intends to create pre-approved contracts for specialty staff, modeled after the New York State Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Like sharing equipment, workers have often been sent from one municipality to another to offer assistance in the past, although this usually occurs with workers from highway or public-works departments, rather than specialty workers. When it is fully phased in, it is expected to save $1.3 million;

— Creating a purchasing system in 2018 for items ranging from computer hardware to gasoline. The system would allow municipalities to “piggyback” on other contracts through the state, county, or other municipalities. Municipalities have often already done this in some way, such as town highway departments using county contracts to purchase equipment;

— Allowing school districts and municipalities to use the county’s Department of Public Works stations as vehicle repair and maintenance facilities.

The plan describes the highway garages in the towns of Berne, Knox, and Westerlo, and the bus garages of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo and Voorheesville school districts, as “outdated” and needing to “be replaced or significantly renovated,” and states that the towns have expressed interest in consolidating their facilities with the four county DPW facilities in Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Voorheesville.

The plan notes that the BKW School District has expressed interest in sharing a facility at the town of Berne’s highway garage, with the possibility that the town could consolidate its facility with the county. The town board decided to conduct a study this past spring on the potential savings of consolidation, but the study has not yet been conducted, and the town residents would have to vote to approve a consolidation.

The Voorheesville School District is looking to lease space from the county’s garage in Voorheesville to store its buses, rather than build a new bus garage for an estimated $6.8 million. The school board discussed this with the district superintendent last week; though it is still not known how much leasing would cost, it is assumed to be significantly less than a new facility.

Once it is fully phased in, this proposal is expected to save almost $2 million;

— Offering a central translation service to all municipalities in the county, either through the county or from other government entities. Starting this year, it is expected to save $50,000;

— Installing LED-equipped lights in municipalities throughout the county, which is expected to save $250,000 in total from installing the more energy-efficient lights. Some towns, like Knox, have already installed the light-emitting diode lamps.

Hilltowns respond

According to Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier, Berne is opting out of only one service — shared translation — because it is not needed in a town where most residents speak English. According to 2011 to 2015 estimates in the United States census, there were 85 foreign-born residents out of a population of about 2,800 in Berne.

“This wasn’t something we would need,” said Crosier. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea.”

Crosier said that items that will especially benefit the town include sharing maintenance facilities and the health-insurance consortium.

A shared facility between the county and town highway departments could be the first step in consolidating the departments, where workers for the town and county would grow accustomed to working together.
 
 
The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Leaders 
gather: A vote to adopt the county-wide shared-services plan last Wednesday took place among municipal leaders in Albany County, who overwhelmingly voted in favor of it. From left are Voorheesville Central School District Superintendent Brian Hunt, Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier, and New Scotland Supervisor Douglas LaGrange. Behind them are Altamont Mayor Kerry Dineen, right, and Westerlo Supervisor Richard Rapp. Standing is Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, who is speaking with Rapp’s administrative aid, Patricia Boice, center.

 

Berne is looking to meet with the county, said Crosier, to discuss sending out request for proposals so a study on consolidating the two departments can be completed.

A similar proposal in 2006 to save $600,000, was scuttled after highway workers raised objections, including losing control of money and services. While Crosier backed the plan, the four other town board members at the time did not.

Crosier also noted that sharing health insurance with the county could save the town much more money and offer better plans to town workers.

“I can’t get into these plans because I don’t have 50 full-time employees,” he said.

He said that, should certain legislation not be changed to allow towns to join a county consortium with better rates, there were other ways to combine insurance, including through consolidating workforces.

Crosier noted that the completion of the plan marks only the beginning of trying to implement it.

“I’m not going to let them hire people and fire my people,” said Westerlo Supervisor Richard Rapp. “But if we get things like health insurance, I’m all for it.”

Rapp said that, while Westerlo opted in to most of the proposals, he would opt out as he saw fit. He disagreed with the idea of sharing a facility with the county, and said the town had not opted into that.

“We’re happy right where we are,” he said, of the town’s highway garage, which is currently the location of the town’s justice court as well. Westerlo voters have defeated a capital plan that would have built a new garage or upgraded the old one.

A health-insurance consortium would be especially helpful, said Rapp, though he noted it is now in the hands of the state legislature to change the laws.

At the Knox Town Board meeting Tuesday night, Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis reviewed the items the town had opted into: the health insurance consortium, joint purchasing and energy purchasing, and establishing LED lights.

“Tara can attest to it; the OGS website is an absolute migraine,” said Lefkaditis, referring to town Clerk Tara Murphy and the New York State Office of General Services’s web page for purchasing items. The supervisor said he hoped joint purchasing could make the process more streamlined.

Councilwoman Amy Pokorny, who is challenging Lefkaditis in the November election, noted that there could be some collaboration between the town’s Climate Smart Communities Grant and the aggregate energy purchasing. The grant will fund a town project that will save energy and lower costs.

Lefkaditis later told The Enterprise that the town opted into the proposition for LED lighting because, while LED streetlights were recently installed in Knox’s lighting district, the county is also looking to replace other municipal lights, such as at the town hall, he said.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Shine a light: A street lamp outside of the Knox Town Park
shinesbright from an LED bulb installed in it. Albany County’s shared-services plan to retrofit municipal lights with light-emitting diodes as a means of saving money due to the bulbs’ low-energy usage.

 

Lefkaditis said at the town board meeting that Knox would opt out of sharing a maintenance facility with the county, because the amount saved by the two entities was not worth the process of putting two departments under one roof.

He told The Enterprise that the town was given an estimate of $160,000 in savings for sharing a facility, but that it wasn’t apparent how that would be split between the town and the county.

Other items, Lefkaditis told The Enterprise, didn’t apply to Knox, such as the translation service. Lefkaditis said he is not sure if Knox was even considered in the cost savings for that proposal. Out of about 2,700 residents, there are 69 foreign-born residents in Knox, according to the United States Census Bureau.

He also said that shared staff would be a more useful program for cities and large towns conducting large projects that would need various specialists.

“We’re very self-sufficient,” Lefkaditis said of Knox. “We do a lot of that stuff already,” he added, of sharing equipment among towns. He said that was why it was deemed unnecessary to partake in a proposal to share equipment.

The town of Rensselaerville has opted into all proposals except for aggregate energy purchasing and sharing a maintenance facility, according to the published plan. Rensselaerville Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury had not returned calls for comment by press time.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, Lounsbury requested the town be opted in for the proposals to share equipment and personnel.

Guilderland

Guilderland does a lot of shared services already, Supervisor Peter Barber said this week, citing providing emergency medical services in Knox. Highway Superintendent Steve Oliver is “constantly lending our equipment and borrowing equipment informally,” Barber said, for instance with Voorheesville and New Scotland.

Brian Wilson at the highway department works full-time making signs that meet New York State Department of Transportation standards, not only for Guilderland but for other municipalities, at prices that are substantially lower than they would be able to find elsewhere, Barber said. The highway department has been providing this service for about 10 years, he said, calling Wilson “extremely talented.”

This service allows the town to be able to purchase better and more specialized sign-making equipment and to ensure that its own signs are made promptly. He said that every year Wilson gets “more and more towns,” as the word about his work spreads. But, fortunately, he’s not overwhelmed, Barber said.

The town also has intermunicipal water agreements with Albany, Watervliet, and Voorheesville, and recently signed one with Rotterdam. “We are looking to do other things, potentially, down the road,” he said.

Guilderland opted out of one proposal, for using a shared maintenance facility, since it involves only the Hilltowns and not Guilderland, Barber said.

With regard to the health consortium, Barber said “We’re willing to listen, to see how it plays out.” He added, “The devil is in the details on that.”

The town would need to ensure that it would still be able to provide adequate coverage and meet its contractual obligations; he would be interested in learning whether the town would be able to do that at a better price than it does now, he said.

Guilderland could possibly benefit from using the shared translation services, Barber said, if people in court proceedings were native speakers of other languages.

Barber was asked if there had been any discussion of eliminating a layer of government by doing away with Altamont’s status as a village. He said, basically, no, calling that “more of a question for the village.”

Barber said he knows that people live in the village because they love the atmosphere and the cohesiveness, and that having the elementary school there is vitally important.

“I don’t think the goal of this should be eliminating government, unless the people in the village made that choice,” he said.

New Scotland

New Scotland Supervisor Douglas LaGrange says that New Scotland already shares a tremendous amount of services with nearby towns as well as the county. He pointed to shared paving services with Bethlehem, and some shared services with the department of public works in Voorheesville.

“The Rockefeller Institute did a poll and discussed options and opportunities,” LaGrange said, adding, “They all have possible opportunities for us. Until I see the exact program that they are going to develop or the costs associated with it, I can’t say yes definitely, or no definitely.”

“Basically, what I was saying is, ‘I’m willing to explore any opportunities that could save money.’”

Speaking about the proposal to share equipment, LaGrange spoke in favor of, “Any opportunity to have a shared equipment bank, of sorts. Where we’d all go in on a Gradall, because it’s such a large, expensive piece of equipment,” he said.

He suggested having “some kind of an agreement,” instead of each municipality buying its own machine, “Especially those of us that are smaller in size and don’t have quite the need for it year round,” he said. “It would certainly be an opportunity to keep our costs down.”

LaGrange, like many town leaders, felt a proposed health insurance consortium would be a financial boone to the town.

“The more people involved in a policy, the better rates you get. If we can somehow arrange to go in as a full county, that might show us some really good cost savings in the future … ,” he said. He added later, “Those two stood out to me. All of them [the proposals] seem to have opportunity.”


— Sean Mulkerrin contributed the section on New Scotland and Elizabeth Floyd-Mair contributed the section on Guilderland.

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