By KIM SMITH DEDAM Press-Republican
— ELIZABETHTOWN — It wasn’t a lottery, but Essex County has won $1.2 million in grants for saving taxpayers money.
Funding awards announced by the Department of State were highly competitive and given through the Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program.
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Essex County was awarded two of just 13 grants statewide for recent moves to cut spending.
Michael Mascarenas, head of the Office of Community Resources Department, wrote the grants with County Manager Dan Palmer.
Mascarenas was thrilled with the county’s win.
“We did all right,” he said Thursday.
The first grant award, for $244,881, recognized the creation of the Office of Community Resources, which formed in 2011 out of consolidating four county departments: the Youth Bureau, Stop DWI, County Planning and Traffic Safety offices.
“At the time of the consolidation, the county was looking for ways to be more efficient. Through attrition, we were able to combine those departments into one,” Mascarenas said.
FOR HORACE NYE
The other grant, for $984,250, was for the move to privatize Horace Nye Nursing Home.
The sale for private operation cut between $2 million and $3 million from the county budget.
“We also put the Horace Nye decision into the grant-making process,” Mascarenas said. “I think Horace Nye was budgeted at $16 million per year, but the amount passed to local taxpayers was $2 million. It was significant.
“The state recognized that and gave us a grant award for doing it.”
Together, the two grants total $1.2 million and will be paid out over three years.
The money is not targeted for any one project or department, Palmer said.
“It’s general aid, and it’s allowed to go directly into our general fund. We’re obviously going to try to replenish the fund balance to keep the levy down, unless the Board of Supervisors finds another use for the money.”
The total $1.2 million will add something close to $400,000 annually to county revenue.
“The whole concept of the grant was efficiency,” Palmer said.
“The Department of State asked, ‘What have you done to save money in county government?’ The entire basis of the Horace Nye sale was to reduce the levy to the county, which it did.”
Mascarenas said that in the three years since consolidating four county departments into one Community Resource Office, they have saved about $800,000 total.
And with the new grant, cost savings made money, too.
“Yes, at the end of the day, I guess it did,” Mascarenas said.
“The intent of the program was to recognize recurring cost savings to the taxpayer.”
Altogether, cost savings from Essex County’s consolidation and privatization moves saved nearly $3 million annually from the overall $16.3 million levy.
Mascarenas said other municipalities around the state have been calling their office to ask how they implemented the Community Resource consolidation.
It was not an easy task because with 38,000 people the population of Essex County is relatively small, but it is the second-largest county geographically.
Doing more with fewer people is a challenge, Mascarenas said, especially across that many square miles.
“We are busy. There are a lot of challenges in being a rural, large county. But it’s definitely working. We’ve been successful on the planning side. We are able to provide a high level of service and provide that service at lower cost to the taxpayers.”
In announcing the grants this week, Department of State officials said the 13 projects recognized a total $38.2 million in combined annual savings to taxpayers.
“This program is an integral part of Governor (Andrew) Cuomo’s agenda to improve efficiency and reduce costs at all levels of government,” Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales said in announcing the grants.
“The governor is yet again applying a competitive process to stimulate creativity and innovation among decision-makers. And the big winners are the taxpayers who will benefit from smart, cost-saving investments in their communities’ futures.”
Deputy Secretary of the Department of State Dierdre “DeDe” Scozzafava said the grant winners set an example for other municipalities across New York.
“The work being done by our local government partners shows the level of commitment these local leaders have to reducing expenses while maintaining the quality services they provide,” Scozzafava said in a statement.
“We anticipate other local governments will view these projects as examples of some of the options available to reduce their expenses.”
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