ELLICOTTVILLE — The Cattaraugus County Shared Services Initiative held the first of three public hearings Thursday as plans for sharing and saving began to take shape.

Meeting at the Ellicottville Town Center auditorium, Co-chairmen Jack Searles, the Cattaraugus County administrator, and County Legislature Chairman Paula Stockman complemented participating municipalities and said the project is exceeding expectations.

At the first of three public hearings, Ellicottville Mayor John Burrell thanked Searles and his staff for their work in bringing all the municipalities together for the shared services project.

Olean Mayor Bill Aiello offered to host one of the next two hearings on the shared services plan in Olean.

“Additional projects came in today,” Searles told the group of about 50 municipal officials from mayor and supervisors to highway superintendents.

Municipalities have expressed interest in such shared services as justice courts, building demolition, health insurance, shared public works equipment, joint professional engineering services, tax assessing services and animal control services.

The shared services challenge was included in this year’s state budget, as the state sought new ideas for sharing across municipal boundaries.

Officials had asked Searles to arrange for a presentation from the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA), a non-profit group that bundles municipal electric and gas purchases to take advantage of bulk purchasing options.

Doug Barton of MEGA explained the non-profit group formed in 2001. It has enrolled more than 30 counties and 250 municipalities in its bulk purchase program.

Savings average 3 percent to 4 percent, Barton said. Cattaraugus County and the City of Olean are part of MEGA.

“We go out to bid for bulk electric and gas purchases,” Barton told the mayors and supervisors. “Municipalities can piggyback on bids offered through Genesee County.

Barton said over the past 19 years, MEGA has saved municipalities an estimated $15 million on their electricity and gas bills.

“This is maybe the easiest shared services you can get involved with,” Barton told the officials.

Officials will need to have the bills for all their municipal meters. “You can do it online,” he said. In five business days, MEGA will let a municipality know how much they can save them over a two-year contract.

Barton said MEGA is looking at expanding into residential electric and gas markets as well.

Officials broke into smaller groups toward the end of the meeting.

Searles said one of the initiatives that has drawn a lot of interest is a computerized database for public works equipment.

“The highway superintendents worked on the list,” the county administrator said. “It serves a number of purposes. First you know which municipality has what equipment. It will also be valuable in an emergency situation.”

The town justice court consolidation may also be more successful than first thought, Searles said. The number of towns and their geographic location indicates two or more locations.

Health insurance, geographic information systems and shared assessors were also drawing interest from the participating municipalities, Searles said.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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