MONTGOMERY COUNTY -- Montgomery County's efforts to consolidate some services offered by municipalities in the county has gotten a boost from a "Secretary's Choice" grant for $149,000.
The award, given during the 4th Annual Local Government Innovation Conference on Nov. 15, provides money from the state's Municipal Restructuring Fund for the purpose of developing consolidation project plans for:
• A regional consolidated court facility with the towns of Glen, Minden, Canajoharie, St. Johnsville, Palatine, Charleston and the village of Canajoharie.
• The development of an electronic content management system in partnership with the city and town of Amsterdam and the town of Florida.
• The dissolution of the village of Fort Plain into the town of Minden.
• The consolidation of the police forces for the villages of Fort Plain and Canajoharie with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department.
Montgomery County's application for the grant money provided a preliminary estimate of $3.5 million in recurrent annual savings for taxpayers if all of the consolidation projects were to happen. The county had competed for the top grant of $20 million, but did not win.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said the silver lining in not winning the $20 million grant is that, in order to get that money, the county would have been required to conduct at least one dissolution. Under the terms of the smaller grant, the political pressure is off Fort Plain and the police agencies that are in line to be studied for cost savings.
He added the county has already made progress on several proposed projects.
"We've gotten multiple grants on this already, and it's an ongoing process that will be going on long after I'm gone," Ossenfort said. "We're much further ahead on the records management, because we've been doing that for a few years now. In the court consolidation, it's really about bringing all of the stakeholders together and seeing where the rubber meets the road, and this money helps us take a look at these issues.
Fort Plain Mayor Thomas Quackenbush said his village and the town of Minden, under Supervisor Cheryl Reese, are committed to studying the issue of consolidation to see if savings can be achieved without negatively affecting services. He said the village and town have been submitting budget data to a research team from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, which has been assisting Montgomery County since it was announced as one of the six finalists for the $20 million grant in 2017. He said he expects to see some data on the issue as early as next week.
"The dissolution of the Police Department is the hot-button topic, but we've committed to the study," Quackenbush said. "So, it's premature to say we're in favor of the dissolution until we see the numbers."
Ossenfort said he understands there will be push-back for any proposed dissolution.
"We are not taking on easy issues," he said. "There's no doubt about it, it's a long shot. But I think it's an effort worth fighting if we can get some state support to further that thought, because you can't say that the way we're doing things is perfect. You can always improve."
Ossenfort said he anticipates having more data available from the study of the possible consolidations within a few months.