Two counties may share position

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton and Montgomery counties may merge their director of community services positions, a move that could save the counties about $52,000.

The idea to share a director – first discussed in 2010 – was put off in 2013 while Montgomery County was going through a restructuring to a county executive form of government.

“For the last couple years, there’s been some discussions,” Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said this week. “Montgomery County didn’t want to do it last year. This year, we’re looking at it again.”

Stead said directors of community services are county positions, but under state guidelines, they work for volunteer community service boards. Combining the two counties’ positions could be cost-effective and more efficient than having two positions, officials say.

Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rick Argotsinger said he supports combining of the director of community services positions into one.

“I think it would be a good idea for a lot of reasons,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of money to be saved. It is being investigated by the committee.”

Montgomery County Legislature Chairman Tom Quackenbush said consolidation of the positions would be good for the public.

“I think whenever we can consolidate, can work together, whether it’s counties, cities, towns or villages, it’s in the best interest of the community,” he said.

Quackenbush said it makes sense to have one person serving community service agencies in both counties as a “mainstreamed” department.

The Fulton County Community Services Department currently consists of three full-time consultants, including Director Ernest Gagnon. The county says the agency – located at the county annex at 57 E. Fulton St. in Gloversville – plans, manages and oversees mental health, chemical dependency and developmental disability services in the county. The department also helps in the reorganization of the mental hygiene system, provides crisis services to county facilities such as the probation department and jail, and administers more than $2 million in state and federal funds through contracts with area not-for-profit agencies.

The counties’ directors of community services work as liaisons between their counties and area counseling agencies such as Lexington Center, St. Mary’s Healthcare, Family Counseling Center, Catholic Charities, the Alcoholism Council and Fulton Friendship House.

Montgomery County’s most recent director is James Gumaer. The semi-retired Gumaer has been working part time in Montgomery County and will retire Jan. 1.

To combine the director of community services positions, both counties must approve an intergovernmental agreement.

Gagnon recently submitted a budget proposal to the Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee reflecting a combination of both counties’ positions. The budget was done at the request of the committee.

Figures show each county could save about 15 percent of their community services budget by combining positions. Fulton County would save $36,425 for 2014, while Montgomery County would save $16,540 for 2014.

In a letter to the committee, with copies to Montgomery County officials, Gagnon wrote that with limits placed on county governments with the tax cap, state budget incentives for consolidation and Gumaer’s intention to retire, “this appears to be an advantageous time to move forward with this proposal.”

Gagnon said Warren and Washington counties have had a successful joint director of community services since the 1990s.

Michael Anich can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.