By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO County officials delivered a report to legislators on Thursday recommending several changes to streamline government processes.
Chief among them was a suggestion to eliminate vendors having to certify they provided goods and services to the county in order to be paid for those goods and services often delaying the county’s payment to the vendors.
Instead, the Lean Government Committee recommended vendor invoices be used for such certification, allowing speedier payments and less paperwork.
Other suggestions included:
• Accepting electronic signatures on contracts with outside agencies.
• Making payments electronically, thereby giving the county access to discounts on state contracts.
• Centralizing and standardizing contract forms via a database, thus reducing the time it takes for the County Attorney’s Office to review each contract’s legal language.
• Utilizing existing county software to reduce workloads i.e., creating templates for recurring purchase orders.
• Cutting down on the mandated use of purchase orders, in order to reduce workloads.
Only the invoice certification recommendation was voted upon on Thursday, and the unanimous approval by the legislators of the Management and Budget Committee must still be approved by the full Legislature on June 16.
“A number of these things will require further research and investment,” acknowledged County Manager David Fanslau, whose Lean Government initiative spurred the study.
Deputy County Treasurer Nancy Buck said she hopes that includes her office.
“This is the first I’m seeing this,” she remarked to legislators. “... I have to tell you, reading this really got my blood boiling this morning. ... The group that you had [making these recommendations] doesn’t do the banking we have.”
Multiple apologies were sent Buck’s way for not involving the Treasurer’s Office in discussions, especially those that pertained to financial issues, and legislators agreed to include that office’s personnel in future meetings.
“We may know something you’re not thinking about,” explained Buck.
Legislator David Sager said he’s “all for going paperless” but insisted that checks and balances remain in place to avoid scandals and abuses.
“At the end of the day,” he advised, “we need to make sure we’re keeping track of things appropriately.”
Other legislators, like Alan Sorensen and Elwin Wood, also urged caution, and that was echoed by county staff.
“The most important thing is the departments need to be on the lookout and very responsible for what they’re authorizing,” agreed County Auditor Angela Chevalier. “... Because it’s not going to be on my side now.”
College to provide budget requests
At Thursday’s Government Services Committee meeting, Sorensen told his fellow legislators that representatives from Sullivan County Community College would not be in attendance, despite their listing on the agenda as having a regular monthly report to make.
He said that’s because county staff had met with college officials on Tuesday to figure out how to reduce the county’s $4 million annual contribution to SCCC.
“They were directed to come to a meeting next week with a net giveback of $600,000 to the county,” Sorensen explained.
Legislator Jodi Goodman, however, still wished they had shown up, if only to engage in a Q&A with legislators.
“I don’t understand,” she complained. “Even if there’s no issues, there should be communication.”
Fanslau said SCCC leaders had informed them ahead of time of their pending absence, but other legislators agreed with Goodman.
“It’s just pathetic,” Sager remarked. “They’re expected to be here every second Thursday!”
Sorensen agreed there are “some long-term structural issues that need to be addressed” with the college, like a recent SUNY report that indicated SCCC’s administrative costs are higher than other community colleges.
“The ability of the county to come up with additional funding is not there,” he reiterated.
“We’re talking about them like they are in a Third World country,” observed a frustrated Goodman. “They should be here to discuss it!”
Legislator Leni Binder also called on faculty and staff at SCCC to stop telling students the Legislature is trying to “shut down” the college.
“I think that’s a very unfair statement to us,” she said. “It’s not like we’re driving around in Cadillacs and we want to take away their bicycles.”
However, Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis, at a Capital Planning meeting earlier in the day, told Fanslau to continue holding off the construction of the college’s CAST (Center for Advanced Sciences and Technologies) Building. Its $15 million cost is being equally split between the county and SCCC.
The Government Services Committee meeting was thus recessed to this Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to talk about the budget with SCCC officials. The gathering will be held at the Government Center in Monticello and is open to the public.