(TNS) - Montour and Columbia counties, being neighboring counties, have been working together more closely than ever before.

The two counties, which are part of the same judicial district, several years ago began a study to determine any departments that could be consolidated in an attempt to save taxpayers’ dollars.

The two domestic relations offices were merged three years ago at an initial savings of $80,000.

In May, county officials expect the 911 centers in the two counties to be consolidated, which is expected to result in an eventual savings of millions of dollars.

Montour County would have been faced with a $2 million bill to upgrade its 911 center, Commissioner Chairman Ken Holdren said.

Since the consolidation won’t go into effect until May, he doesn’t have figures on actual savings to the two counties.

In order to locate addresses accurately, nearly every address in Montour County will change. The readdressing is needed so emergency responders can accurately pinpoint homes and businesses, according to the commissioners.

The two counties received a $827,158 state grant for equipment for the new center to be located in Bloomsburg.

With more manpower at the new center, they should have a larger core group that will result in fewer part-time workers and more people to cover for vacations and sick time and less overtime, Holdren said.

A Pennsylvania first

Merging of the two centers will be a first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

The county has little debt, has a fully funded pension plan and hasn’t raised real estate taxes in six years, Montour County Commissioner Trevor Finn said.

This year, the county was able to eliminate the $5 per capita tax, he said.

The county avoided additional expenses by having rabbittransit take over the county transportation system last year.

Holdren said the county transit system would have had to comply with state regulations and could have been shut down. “We didn’t want to take the risk of losing services for seniors and the disabled,” he said.

An upgrade of the system would have “been at least six figures” and would have required additional staffing, he said.

While the county didn’t replace its domestic relations director when the consolidation of the two offices went into effect, the county is still paying for its share of domestic relations services, Montour County Chief Clerk Holly Brandon said. The consolidated office is located in Columbia County.

When that merger occurred, one domestic relations employee from Montour County went to work in Columbia County, another got a job with Northumberland County and a third retired, she said.

Finn and fellow commissioners Holdren and Vice Chairman Dan Hartman save the county money by not charging mileage when they travel on county business, Brandon said.

“We negotiate for insurance, electricity, natural gas and have had people look at our phone bills,” Finn said of other ways of saving money.

“A lot of our elected officials forego going to conventions unless they are very important or they are for continuing education credits,” he said.

If elected officials need to travel, they will carpool or use county vehicles to save money, he said.

“They all get it,” Brandon said of county employees looking out for the taxpayers.

In public spaces, the county has been able to improve appearances.

But, for example, in the commissioners’ office, the commissioners are using the same desks from 1999 when Brandon started working for the county.

“There is duct tape on them, but they make do,” she said. At one time, the commissioners didn’t even have an office in the courthouse.

“Montour County is a good place to work. Ask any employee,” Brandon said.

“We negotiate benefits to try to keep costs down as much as we can,” Finn said. “We have very good health, dental, eye and life insurance.”

An employee wellness program also helps keep health insurance rates down, he said.

In-house renovations

With the county hiring an extra maintenance person, the crew of three has been able to accomplish an astounding amount of work by themselves to improve county buildings, according to the commissioners.

County maintenance employees remodeled the office suite at the county home building on Woodbine Lane, upgraded the emergency operations center and renovated the first floor of the courthouse. The first-floor work included painting and installing new and energy-efficient lights.

They are currently renovating the second floor of the courthouse where new carpeting has been installed. A new ceiling and new floor coverings are being placed in the sheriff’s office. Some time ago, the county maintenance staff, headed by Tom Starr, refurbished the courtroom, also on the second floor.

The county was able to redo the walls, paint and install new lighting in the commissioners’ staff office.

Following the March 14 snowstorm, Starr rented a skidder and a dump trailer so they could haul the snow away, Brandon said.

Maintenance employees last year upgraded the offices for the staff of Montour County District Judge Marvin Shrawder.

Before that, the maintenance crew was able to build a counter and remodel the commissioners’ conference room for under $1,000, Finn said.

Nancy Springer, assistant chief clerk who is in charge of the county’s safety committee, applied for and received a grant so the county could remove trees that were uprooting the sidewalk in front of the courthouse and replace them with new trees and a new sidewalk last summer, Finn said.

The county has also received grants through its insurance companies and workers’ compensation for projects that have saved money from the general fund, Brandon said. While no further consolidation has been proposed at this time, Holdren said, “We always look for opportunities if they arise. We’ll keep the door open.”

Email comments to kblackledge@dailyitem.com. Follow Karen on Twitter at @KLBlackledge.

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