December 5, 2021

County looking to hire consulting agency

Cortland County Seal

The Cortland County Legislature may hire a consultant to help revamp county government over several years to save money and reach other goals.

“Where government organizations tend to get in trouble is we tend to think we can be good at 32 different things and we wind up mediocore in everything,” said Mark Aesch, the CEO of Transpo Consulting, as the Legislature met Thursday as a committee of the whole. “We would want to work with you to be really clear on what does success look like for the Legislature so that we can produce that for you because if we can’t get you to align on what the endzone looks like for you, we can’t get there.”

Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said he invited Aesch at the recommendation of the New York State Association of Counties.

During the about hour-long presentation, Aesch said he would work with the county, if hired, to determine what top three or four goals the county has and how to reach them in a seven-step process.

“So often, public bodies think if they’ve adopted their budget they’ve been successful,” he said. “Your budget is simply how you’re going to spend your resources. Wouldn’t you want to spend your resources on the activities that will make you successful? The only way you know to spend your resources on the activities that will make you successful is if you know what success looks like.”

The company suggests three tasks as part of the first step:

  • Executive coaching — Aesch would meet for 30 minutes every two weeks with County Administrator Rob Corpora to understand the challenges.
  • Legislature alignment — The company would host workshops with the Legislature to define success, then create ways to get there.
  • Organization assessment — The company would determine the best structure for the county, analyze the skills and capacity, and recommend changes to meet the Legislature’s goals.

Those steps would take four to six months, then the company would bring ideas to legislators, who would need to determine the next phase, likely implementation.

That process would take four to six months, Aesch said.

“How are you received by employees?” asked Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer).

“I think if you’re wearing a button that says, ‘We want to protect what is,’ then we’re probably not going to be a good match,” Aesch said.

The plan is also meant to be sustainable for years to come, with changes made along the way, but the process remaining the same, he said. “The process remains the same, but it becomes tighter and smarter every year.”

Legislators raised concerns over the cost of hiring the company, which for the first phase would be a ball park of $100,000, give or take 20%, Aesch said.

However, others argued that the return on investment could pay for the company.

The company has worked with more than 20 counties, including working with Broome County on three goals for its transit system — increasing the quality of services, making the services more efficient and saving money.

The company was able to help Broome save $450,000 on a $401 million county budget.

“I can’t guarantee you a return, you ultimately make the decisions,”Aesch said. “We can come to you with ideas you have to, hopefully, vote for them.”

About half the counties Transpo has worked with has kept them around to do the performance management portion of the process as well.

“I see this as a golden opportunity, because we’re all going o be here for four years,” said Legislator Linda Jones (R-Homer). “I know some people probably took a little sigh when you said starting price is $100,000 — I would like to say to everyone, what do we spend on a new piece of machinery? Highway Department comes and needs a new $80,000 piece of equipment we do it, so try and keep that $100,000 in perspective.”

Heider said that a request for proposals from professional services agencies will likely be sent out today to see whether other companies are interested in helping the county restructure.