GLOVERSVILLE - No one opposed the idea of sharing or consolidating some government services and structures in Fulton County at a meeting of about 30 town, city and county officials and the public-at least in principle.
Participants who spoke at the meeting Wednesday at Gloversville High?School called by Gloversville Mayor Dayton King appeared unanimous that sharing of equipment and services, or even mergers of departments, could sometimes mean more-efficient and less-expensive government.
King opened the meeting by asking participants to consider the possibilities for working together. The purpose of the meeting was to offer ideas and simulate what King called discussion on "the pros and cons."
Gloversville Major Dayton King?— front left, with back to camera — presides over a meeting Wednesday at Gloversville High School.
The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff
Marie Born, Gloversville 1st Ward supervisor, talks about the
financial pressures local communities face during the meeting.
The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff
The backdrop for the meeting were the financial struggles communities face with increasing costs in a weak economy, dealing with state financial cutbacks, and federal and state mandates.
As an example, Marie Born, Gloversville's 1st Ward supervisor, said Medicaid costs the city $266,000 a week.
"There's no escape" from mandated costs, she said.
Several ideas for shared services and consolidation were offered at the meeting.
Born suggested the city talk about police and fire consolidation with Johnstown, but said "it has to make sense to both sides."
City Police Chief Donald VanDeusen and Fire Chief Beth Whitman-Putnam said Gloversville and Johnstown already cooperate, and they agreed with Born.
Joining police forces "could mean nothing but good for us," VanDeusen said.
"We have to start [discussions] with sewer, water, police and fire," Born said.
She argued an agreement on sewer and water services would benefit both cities by making it easier for businesses to open or expand.
"We have to put differences away- not how does it benefit me, but how does it benefit us?" she said.
Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor John Callery said he didn't see why police and fire couldn't be merged.
Town of Bleecker Councilman David Bartholomew suggested that joint maintenance of roads throughout the county, perhaps including stations where equipment is strategically located, could abolish "all these layers of government" and "eliminate unnecessary costs."
King said he doesn't see any job losses because of sharing of services or consolidation, but personnel savings by attrition.
Although participants were clear that some cooperation is already occurring and they want it to increase, sometimes they gave only qualified support to shared services or expressed caution that every proposal should be carefully vetted.
The concept of a county government absorbing all the community governments was mentioned in passing but not discussed.
D. Robert Robbins Jr., Gloversville building and plumbing inspector, suggested that code enforcement countywide could be feasible since every community follows state codes and it would allow a county department to specialize by putting some personnel out on the field and others reviewing building plans. It also would allow for regular hours, which smaller communities don't have because they have part-time staffers.
However, because communities have already downsized their departments, he said, "I don't see it as a cost savings."
No one championed the idea of countywide assessments. In fact, city of Johnstown 1st Ward Supervisor Richard?Handy claimed people are "just going to become a number" in such an arrangement, and that voters have "shot down" the proposal twice.
Callery said he could see the advantages of shared water and sewer infrastructure for Johnstown and Gloversville, but other communities, such as Stratford, would be too far away.
Town of Caroga Councilman Robert Sullivan noted that town and city concerns aren't always the same. "What do we have in common with the city?" he asked.
Robert Castiglione of Northville, a member of the public, suggested countywide underwriting of fire insurance with premiums paid by homeowners would spread out the cost of fire losses but first would require a study of the cost of losses before pursuing that course.
He said such a plan could "create a huge amount of money" that could be invested.
However, Bruce VanGenderen, Gloversville's finance director, said putting the government in charge of self-insurance would be less efficient than allowing private enterprise to handle the insurance.
Mayor Sarah Slingerland did not argue against cooperation, but said legal and financial implications, such as state and federal funding, regulations and taxes, whether joint ventures would really save money, and the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" of implementation costs, should be examined.
She said that the county's communities "aren't at all fighting," but are trying to dialogue on the issues.
"Will [shared services or mergers] make our governments more efficient?" asked Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland. "If it's more efficient, it's less costly."
King said after the session that two of the meeting's goals were to show the community that government officials are cooperating on seeking viable financial options, and that the public's ideas are welcomed.
"We need to hear from the public," he said. "We need their solutions."