July 23, 2010

EDITORIAL: Shared services, good government

The push for municipal governments to share services and consolidate programs to save money has Franklin County officials talking, and they have approached Essex County supervisors as partners.

An interim director is working at the Franklin County Public Health Nursing Services Department, and the Essex County Health Department is also without a full-time director.

An idea presented recently in Franklin County by the County Legislature's Human Services Committee Chairman Gordon Crossman (D-Malone) would have the two counties share one health-department director.

The county already leases office space in Saranac Lake for the public-nursing staff to use as a base, and sometimes duties can overlap or be clumsy because Saranac Lake straddles the Franklin County and Essex County borders.

For example, scheduling patient care could be made easier if an Essex County-based nurse provides services in a client's Saranac Lake home rather than a nurse employed by Franklin County driving from Malone to render that patient's service.

The reverse could also work where an Essex County nurse could save travel time if a client is closer to a Franklin County nurse to tend.

Crossman and other legislators said the merger could save each county some money with each paying half the salary and benefits to the person, and it could lower the staff time and agency money spent to advertise the positions and interview multiple candidates separately.

He named a committee to research the idea, which will include his committee as well as members of the Administrative Committee, Legislature Chairman Guy "Tim" Smith (D-Fort Covington) and County Manager James Feeley.

Legislators vowed that patient care and continuity of service would be utmost in their minds as they explore consolidating services.

As long as the senior citizens and other vulnerable residents with immediate and long-term health-care issues continue to receive the professional and compassionate care they expect and deserve, we're behind the idea.

We also like that the excellent nursing staffs each county employs could see less stress as they minister to medical needs and provide what can often be a client's only contact with the outside world.

Cost savings will also be important, especially in this national-, state- and regional-economic climate. Wherever cost savings can be had, we recommend its pursuit.

The cost savings, in fact, strongly urged by state leaders including Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) in the best of times, are even more appropriate now. State budget perils are putting enormous pressure on counties and their taxpayers. If a job — any job — can be done by one person instead of two, or one agency instead of two, the initiative should be seized.

This is creative government thinking by Crossman, and we hope it enables taxpayers as well as service recipients to be rewarded.

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