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A closer look at the Montgomery County efficiency plan

The Montgomery County Government Efficiency Plan was submitted to NY State on June 1 and contains a number of initiatives from both the county and local governments to cut expenses or raise revenue. This plan is required to be submitted in order for residents to be eligible for a property tax rebate from NY State under its Property Tax Freeze Credit program. According to a press release from the county last week, the plan exceeds NY State’s minimum requirement to identify at least a 1% reduction in the tax levy by 2017.

According to the plan, NY State allows municipalities to count savings from initiatives started as far back as 2012. Some of the items on the plan, such as savings from the closure of the MOSA landfill, or the renegotiation of union contracts, fall under this category. Other initiatives have yet to be implemented.

There were a couple of items that seemed questionable to me in this regard, given my understanding of when the initiatives began. The first was on page 17:

Re-establishment of county-wide demolition team, inclusive of certified asbestos remediation specialists.

The item is projected to save municipalities including the City of Amsterdam and the villages of Fonda, Canajoharie, Hagaman, Fultonville, Fort Plain, St. Johnsville, and Palatine Bridge a total of $100,000 in 2016 alone. However, to my knowledge the demolition team had never been dis-established. I asked for clarification from Andy Santillo, Communications Specialist at the county who consulted with the economic development department and sent this response:

A countywide demolition team, fully trained and certified in asbestos remediation, was started in 2010. By using the county team, individual municipalities were able to save about 50% of the cost of demolition — the basis for the calculation of the savings. The asbestos abatement capability of the team is a particularly important factor in generating that savings. The ability to use county personnel, during the less intense work cycles, also meant that the county was fully utilizing a slack resource. The county had previously coordinated with the City of Amsterdam and the Village of Fort Plain to undertake demolition of smaller residential and commercial buildings. Upon consultation with the Commissioner of Public Works, the Economic Development office was informed that the team neither fully stopped work, nor would any required certifications lapse. The aforementioned communities, together with some others, desire to reinvigorate the team and ramp up its level of activity.

So in my mind, it’s difficult to resolve the known 2010 start date of the demolition team with the 2016 implementation date listed on the report. “Re-invigorating” a program is different from “re-establishing” a program. In actuality, this is a continuation of an existing program, not a new one. But if NY State accepts it, then so be it, it’s certainly a project worth going forward with.

Another item on the list that caught my eye is the implementation of the city’s KVS accounting system on page 15.

Replaced old accounting system with KVS — reports can now be generated electronically vs. manually

I knew it was common knowledge that the city transitioned from the county’s system in 2011. So why does the report list the implementation date as 2015?

I got some clarity on this from City of Amsterdam Controller Matt Agresta. While confirming the KVS system was implemented in 2011, he also said that currently, his department does not completely utilize all the features that are available with the system, such as one for bank reconciliations. He said that once the feature is fully utilized, it should reduce the workload on his staff and could potentially save the city $60,000 per year, which is the amount listed in the plan.

So the while the description in the report seems off, at least at the heart of it, the city plans to implement a new procedure to save expenses.

Two of the items listed on the report with the most significant savings include relocating the Department of Public Works and other administrative departments out of the floodplain to avoid future remediation and insurance costs, estimated to save over $1 million total from 2017 to 2019, as well as the installation of solar panels at the former Antler landfill, which is estimated to save a total of nearly a half million dollars from 2017 to 2019.

Other ideas that we should be looking for in the future include plans to create a shared electronic document storage system for the county and local governments, as well as a plan to use a web-based portal to help the county share DPW equipment and services with the various localities in the county.

Even though Mayor Ann Thane is quoted in the county’s press release as supportive of the plan, it appears she wasn’t fully informed about the inclusion of an item calling for the county to provide economic development services to the City of Amsterdam, thus allowing the city to eliminate the Community and Economic Director position, generating a $40,000 savings to the city. Over the past years, Thane has consistently argued for keeping the position, so it remains to be seen whether this item comes about or not. I covered this issue more in-depth in an article yesterday.

One last nit-pick, here is the final entry in the plan, with a projected savings of $15,000 to $25,000 savings per year:

Frequently done now, can be expanded to additional communities. Multiple communities are actively considering the transfer of this function to the county. Savings are estimated in aggregate under county at this time.

Yes, that’s the complete description. I haven’t gotten an answer back from the county yet as far as what it means. (Update: According to County Executive Matt Ossenfort, this entry was included by mistake and should have been deleted.)

Now just because I’ve pointed out some issues, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the effort here is a good one. What I like about this plan is that it lists specific actions that we can hold the county and local governments accountable for as time goes on. That’s a good thing. The whole concept of municipalities having to submit these plans to the state is a new one, so I have no doubt the county will continue to refine and update this plan in the future.

About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

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