By Barry Leemann, Chairman, Oswego County Legislature
Oswego County, with its population of approximately 122,377 people, contains 51 units of local government. They include county government, two cities, 22 towns, 10 villages, 9 school districts, and 7 fire districts. There are 24 justice courts and three civil service operations, as well as highway departments, assessors, and tax collectors at all levels.
When I was elected Chairman of the County Legislature in January, one of my goals was to bring elected officials from across the county together to explore ways that we can work together to share services, save money, and increase efficiency. We couldn’t anticipate then the dramatic changes that have occurred in our economy over the past few months. Today it’s more important more than ever that, as elected leaders, we investigate ways to share services and work cooperatively.
The municipal government summit on Nov. 17, sponsored by the County Legislature and SUNY Oswego, provided a starting point. Town supervisors, mayors, town and village board members, school superintendents and administrators, highway superintendents, and several members of the Legislature gathered to discuss a number of ways to work together and achieve cost-savings.
The keynote speaker was John Clarkson, Executive Director of the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He shared several examples, and some very interesting facts, about how levels of government can improve operations through cooperation, consolidation, and modernization.
Incredibly, there are 4,720 local government entities in New York State. The commission encourages local agencies to focus on mandate relief and regional approaches to delivering services. One of the best known cases is the consolidation of the Town of Clay Police Department with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. Although it was a long and difficult process, Clarkson told us, the cost savings can be substantial.
Agencies can also save money through collective purchasing. The Oswego County Legislature recently approved a cooperative purchasing agreement with Oswego County BOCES. Both entities will save money by purchasing products such as fuel and copy paper in bulk. All municipalities, including the villages, cities and towns, can purchase off these contracts. However, more significant savings could come if the local municipalities join our bids before they are let, so we can increase the volume of the potential sale and make our bids more attractive to vendors. By combining quantities of shared products, we can gain leverage in the market. This would also give local vendors more opportunity to compete because they don’t have to ship as far.
I have suggested that our Purchasing Department bid out a local contract for fuel products for schools, Oswego County, towns, cities and all other municipalities. Delivery would be in Oswego County only.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I believe we can get a fuel contract cheaper than the State bid contract and this will improve the chances of an Oswego County business getting the bid. If it doesn’t work out as expected, we can still purchase fuel as we always have from the State contract. It should be an enlightening project.
County Purchasing Director Fred Maxon and BOCES Purchasing Director Amy Pastuf explained how the collective purchasing agreement works. Computers and computer supplies, copiers, transportation and auto body equipment, tires, and batteries are other items that will be included in the shared purchasing agreement.
We also discussed how we can share information with the towns and villages by posting information on-line and giving them access to existing purchasing contracts in other areas of the state.
Many of the issues we looked at will require more information and more time to review. However, local officials were enthusiastic about the potential savings and found the summit useful. The county is committed to continuing this process. We will hold another summit in several months.
I would like to thank the presenters, SUNY Oswego for hosting the event, moderator Jeff Grimshaw from the SUNY Office of Business and Community Relations, and all who attended the summit. Many elected officials traveled several miles to Oswego on a snowy evening to take part, and I appreciate their dedication and commitment to their constituents.