SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- Schenectady County's shared services plan committee voted unanimously Thursday to approve a plan for the county that would promote solar energy projects and potentially save more than $1 million annually.
The county's plan, part of a state effort mandating local governments to develop shared services at the county level, recommends construction of an inter-municipal solar energy system, a switch to LED lighting along streets and in buildings and studying combining health care coverage plans.
Between the various ideas, officials who worked on the plan estimated the county's municipalities could save more than $1.5 million annually if the ideas were all implemented.
There are questions, however, about how much any given local government would save, if anything, and nothing would happen without further study.
Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle wasn't sure if he would support the plan because he's not sure Glenville would save anything through consolidated health insurance. But in the end, he voted in favor of the plan.
"I voted yes because this doesn't commit us to anything," he said Friday. "It will require a series of intermunicipal agreements before anything can actually be done."
The draft plan was presented to the county Legislature in late July, just ahead of a state-set Aug. 1 deadline. County spokesman Joe McQueen said there were only minor changes since then.
The plans must be filed with the state by Sept. 15 and wouldn't go into effect until the state reviews them and gives its blessing.
We already have a good relationship with the municipalities. This is just sort of a coming together to find ways that we cooperate," McQueen said.
The effort, pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, requires local governments statewide to come up with new ways to work together to save money, thereby reducing property taxes -- the theory goes -- or at least reducing the size of future tax hikes.
The shared-services plan committee was chaired by County Manager Kathleen Rooney. By law, it includes representatives of every municipality in the county, with a goal of getting all to agree on the plan.
The most ambitious goal appears to be development of another 15 megawatts of solar farm arrays and a switch to more-efficient municipal lighting systems. Together, they are being called an "inter-municipal energy savings initiative." If implemented, officials believe the county and all its government units meet all their electricity needs through solar power by Dec. 31, 2021.
The county, over the past several years, has been in the process of developing solar farm arrays at seven locations -- for a total of 3 megawatts of power generation -- in partnership with Monolith Solar, a private solar-energy company. The proposed solar energy consortium would greatly expand that effort.
The draft plan also proposes a $404,000 municipal-lighting fund, which would help the county and the municipalities purchase light-emitting diode light fixtures, which are more expensive initially than other lighting technologies but should save purchasers significant money over the lives of those fixtures.
The proposed health care cost consortium would bring the towns of Duanesburg, Glenville, Niskayuna, Princetown and Rotterdam, and the village of Scotia, under the same self-insurance pool arrangement that the county and city of Schenectady now operate.
While an expanded health consortium probably couldn't get off the ground before 2019, according to the plan, the estimated savings are as much as $766,000 per year.
The plan also proposes establishing a joint purchasing cooperative, allowing smaller communities to purchase goods through the county purchasing bureau. McQueen said that, while ideas like health insurance consolidation will require more study, the communities are fully committed to going forward with the joint purchasing, which should allow some savings through mass purchasing.