October 20, 2021

Agency: Cortland County could save millions

Cortland County could save almost $1 million in one year and more than $5.7 million over five years if it reforms 12 areas of the county budget, a consulting company Transpro reported Thursday.

“This is not a commentary on the management of county government,” said Mark Aesch, the CEO of Transpro, during a presentation Thursday to Cortland County legislators. “It is not a commentary on department heads. It’s not a suggestion that different areas are inefficient or more efficient.”

The Florida-based company was hired in April for $127,000 to help revamp county government to save money, deliver quality services and make sure the county workforce is engaged, with the goal of being the most affordable county in the state.

Aesch said the county now can consider one of three avenues: consider the recommendations, but take no action; implement the recommendations; hire a company to help implement the recommendations.

Twelve areas of government stuck out to the consultants, Aesch said:

  • Sheriff’s department staffing.
  • Probation department staffing.
  • Early Intervention.
  • Aging and senior services.
  • Highway Department staffing.
  • Buildings staffing.
  • Public and Mental Health.
  • Health insurance.
  • Tompkins Cortland Community College.
  • Fleet size and management.
  • Recycling tipping fees.
  • Retirement incentives.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that we see the word staffing with some frequency,” Aesch said, noting that the county spends about 10% on staffing more than six comparison counties: Genesee, Tioga, Columbia, Allegany, Chenango and Livingston.

“This is simply suggesting these are areas of opportunity for further exploration,” he said. “It is not a suggestion that folks who are professionals for the county are not delivering passionate value to your residents on a daily basis.”

Note, for example, probation department staffing, Aesch said.

“We are spending significantly more on peers both in regards to staffing and to the number of employees,” he said.

The average variance in spending is $650,000 above the peer counties, about 87% more per capita, the presentation showed. However, the county has 51% more cases than the peer counties and an 18% higher positive case outcomes.

That and many more things are what Aesch said the county must consider before making decisions about what to do with the 12 target areas.

The company drew its analysis by talking to department heads, looking at department data, peer county data, working with a county steering group and conducting a county survey of more than 1,000 county residents. There were two large takeaways, according to the presentation:

  • “Good job opportunities are 42% more important than well maintained county roads to improve satisfaction.”
  • “Unwillingness to reduce services was rated nearly as high as reducing maintenance of Dwyer Park.”

“I find it hard to get excited when less than 2% of our population responded and some of those responses were the same person responding multiple times,” said Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland). “I know one person in fact who responded nine times because they have nine different email accounts.”

Aesch said the company has methods to make sure a person’s response is counted only once. “We do a lot of survey work nationally and the statistical validity we stand behind based upon the level of response we had,” Aesch said.

Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) asked when the Legislature would meet again to begin considering the recommendations.

“I think we should take that opportunity as soon as possible, within the next couple of weeks,” said Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton).