Articles

Shared-Services Plan Could Save Schenectady County, N.Y.'s Municipalities $1.5 Million

If the various ideas to save money are implemented, officials who worked on the plan are estimating the county's city, towns and villages could save more than $1.5 million annually.

by Stephen Williams, The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. / July 31, 2017
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(TNS) -- SCHENECTADY COUNTY — Construction of an inter-municipal solar energy system, a switch to LED lighting on streets and in buildings, and combined health care coverage plans are among the ideas proposed in Schenectady County's draft countywide shared-services plan.

Between the various ideas, officials who worked on the plan are estimating the county's city, towns and villages could save more than $1.5 million annually if they are implemented.

The draft plan is due to be submitted to the county Legislature at a meeting Monday night — just hours ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline by which state legislation says that county-coordinated municipal shared-services plans are due to be submitted to county leaders. The plans must be filed with the state by Sept. 15.

The effort, pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, requires local governments across the state to come up with new ways to work together to save money — and thus to reduce property taxes, or at least reduce the size of future tax increases.

The shared-services plan committee was led by county Legislator Rory Fluman, D-Niskayuna, chairman of the county Committee on Intergovernmental Cooperation. By law, it included representatives of every municipality in the county, with a goal of getting all to agree on the plan.

The most ambition 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, the county and all its government units could get all their electricity from solar power by Dec. 31, 2021.

"Electricity costs are a significant component of every municipality's costs and are a burden on the property taxpayers," the plan states.

The county over the last several years has been in the process of developing 3 megawatts of solar farm arrays at seven locations, in partnership with Monolith Solar, a private solar-energy company. The proposed solar energy consortium would greatly expand that effort, potentially encouraging solar farms in every community in the county. If 15 megawatts of new capacity are produced, the county estimates the annual savings in electricity costs at $525,000.

The draft plan also proposes a $404,000 municipal-lighting fund, which would help the county and the municipalities to 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 plan estimates converting 25 percent of all municipal fixtures in the county to LEDs would save $54,500 per year.

The proposed health care cost consortium would bring the towns of Duanesburg, Glenville, Niskayuna, Princetown and Rotterdam and village of Scotia under the same self-insurance pool arrangement that the county and city of Schenectady now operate, allowing the smaller municipalities to save money through increased buying power and other efficiencies in providing health care to their employees.

While an expanded health consortium probably couldn't get off the ground before 2019, according to the plan developers, the estimated savings are as much as $766,000 per year.

The plan also proposed establishing a joint purchasing cooperative, allowing the smaller communities to purchase goods through the county purchasing bureau.

Ideas under consideration, but not studied in depth in the plan, include developing a shared vehicle-fueling station among the county, Rotterdam and Princetown, and the county working with the Capital District Transportation Authority's communications network to reduce the cost of building a new countywide public-safety radio system.

"The Schenectady County countywide shared-services planning process accelerated a number of collaborative initiatives that were already under investigation," the plan concludes.

Other counties have been coming out with their own shared-services plans in recent weeks, with a range of mundane and outside-the-box ideas.

Montgomery County, for example, is looking at turning part of the former Beech-Nut complex in Canajoharie into joint municipal and local court space to be used by the towns and villages in the western part of the county, along with a countywide real property assessment system.

Ideas under review in Saratoga County include more use of joint purchasing agreements and putting local government retirees into the same pool as county retirees for the funding of Medicare expenses.

The Schenectady panel will be presenting to the county Legislature to seek its input, with plans for an Aug. 24 meeting at which the plan could be modified or adopted.

©2017 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.