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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Joint finance offices won't work for Schenectady city, county

Joint finance offices won't work for Schenectady city, county

Sometimes consolidation doesn’t work.

Sometimes consolidation doesn’t work.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy had hoped to consolidate the city’s Finance Department with the county’s to save money and avoid hiring a new finance commissioner.

It seemed like the perfect time, as the city’s finance commissioner Ismat Alam had tendered her resignation. But in the end he hired Deborah DeGenova, an assistant director in the state Comptroller’s Office, as commissioner at an annual salary of $96,000 plus benefits.

County Attorney Christopher Gardner said consolidating the function simply wouldn’t have saved the city any money.

“I think our Finance Department’s probably working close to capacity right now,” he said, explaining that they would have had to hire more staff. The city would have had to pay for the expansion and it would have cost more than hiring a commissioner, he said.

Staffers were also reluctant because of the learning curve needed to master Schenectady’s budget, he said.

McCarthy said he was disappointed. “But we are still working with the county on ways to reduce costs and be more efficient,” he said.

This year the county began handling much of the city’s purchasing, as well as helping to negotiate health insurance contract changes.

Purchasing will have a huge impact, Gardner said.

“We’re going to have people at City Hall. Not every day, but quite often.”

As an example of the potential savings, he said the county recently used its purchasing officials to rebid a contract on auto parts. The new bids came in 10 percent lower — a savings the county will share with the city. The city pays the county to maintain the city vehicle fleet.

County officials are also holding mediation sessions with some of the city’s unions now to change their health insurance plans. County officials saved $6 million by getting their employees to buy most of their regular prescription drugs from Canada. The drugs are about 40 percent cheaper than American drugs, Gardner said.

To “incentivize” the employees, Gardner said, the county offered Canadian drugs with no co-pays, and a low co-pay for mail-order drugs, which are about 8 percent cheaper than pharmacy prices.

If they want to buy their regular drugs from their local pharmacy, the co-pay is $60, which Gardner called a “penalty co-pay” for choosing the most expensive provider. Now Gardner is trying to get the city’s unions to accept the new co-pays.

“That’s one of the things we’ve put on the table,” he said.

“We put that out there conceptually to all the unions,” he said.

But for negotiations, the main focus is on the new CSEA contract.

Gardner is confident he can help the city save money on it.

“Health care is where the money is,” he said.

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