MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Opponents of the county’s plan to save taxpayer money by, among other things, merging the town and village of Canajoharie, can rest easy.
After months of speculation, New York state picked a different municipality’s plan as the winner of its $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition.
Montgomery County was chosen in February 2017 as one of six municipal governments to compete for the state grant. The others were Chautauqua County, Madison County, Otsego County, Ulster County and the town of Brookhaven. The purpose of the contest was to encourage local government leaders to come up with the most “innovative plan for consolidation, dissolution, service-sharing and other cost-saving measures.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced June 14 that Brookhaven won the prize, with a plan that projects to save taxpayers $120 million. The Brookhaven plan includes consolidation of 24 “improvement districts,” as well as consolidation of tax collection services, department of public works operations among villages and consolidation of town records and archive management.
Montgomery County’s plan was created after months of work by county and local officials, with the assistance of graduate students from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. The plan included creation of a $5.6 million joint town courthouse and municipal center to be built on the western portion of the former Beech-Nut baby food plant. The plan also proposed abolishing the village police departments in Fort Plain and Canajoharie, replacing them with Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy road patrols, and for consolidating the village and town of Canajoharie.
“I really thought this was going to come down to Chautauqua County or Montgomery County, because they had put together a heck of an application, and, to be honest with you, we were pretty bummed and disappointed how it all played out,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort. “This was more of a long shot, but the good thing that came out of it is that, even though we didn’t get the $20 million to implement the full plan, we are still applying for and have received funding to implement pieces of the plan. So, we’re taking the best options and moving forward.”
One part of Montgomery County’s plan the county is moving forward with is the digitization of county files, as well as 70 percent of local government files. The digitization initiative is expected to cost $1.6 million but save $6.7 million over five years.
“This will be so you can easily search for documents instead of having to search through cabinets and cabinets of files. There’s a lot of good meat in this [contest] application that we’re going to continue to work on,” he said.
Canajoharie Deputy Mayor Jeffrey Baker found solace in the fact that Montgomery County recently won a different state grant for $6 million to help with the demolition and debris removal for the eastern part of the former Beech-Nut baby food plant. The consolidation contest required at least one government consolidation or dissolution to get the grant money, and Baker said he doesn’t believe the people of Canajoharie would have supported consolidating the village and town.
“The overwhelming majority did not want to dissolve the village. If put to a public vote, the village taxpayers probably would have voted no by a 70 to 30 margin,” Baker said. “The people who wanted this dissolution were residents of the village of Palatine.”
Mayor Francis Avery said he believes it is extremely unlikely there will be a future push to consolidate the town and village, but he said he wants residents to realize “that we are open to all options” with respect to future development of the Beech-Nut site.
“Yes, we lost this round, but that doesn’t stop us from exploring any other issues that might come down the road,” he said.