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Essex, Franklin counties may share public health services

July 2, 2010
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer

Franklin and Essex counties are considering studying not only sharing a public health director, but maybe consolidating other functions in their public health departments as well.

Essex County has not had a permanent public health director since August 2009. Officials there floated the idea of consolidating the position last year, but Franklin County officials rejected it, as they were hiring a public health director, Mose Herne, at the time, Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun said Thursday. However, Herne retired this spring.

The Franklin County Board of Legislators discussed the possibility again Thursday, and the Essex County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss it at its board meeting Tuesday.

"We're going to wait now to hear from Essex County (and) see if it's something their board's interested in doing," Maroun said. "If it is, we'll set up another meeting (and) go from there to look at the details."

If the two counties decide to proceed, they would "study it for the next few months, then go from there," said Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas of Jay. "By December, hopefully, we can make a decision."

Douglas said they would "look at all the pros and cons of the possibility" to see if consolidation could save money while also meeting the needs of both counties.

Franklin County Manager Jim Feeley, Essex County Manager Dan Palmer and the two human services committee chairmen, Gordon Crossman in Franklin County and David Blades in Essex County, would take the lead on the study.

"They'll be the ones that will be meeting with the interim public health directors in both counties, gathering all the information that's needed so the full board can make a justifiable decision," Douglas said.

Maroun said he would like to pursue the idea, saying it would save money and makes sense given the overlap between the two counties and the distance of areas such as the Tri-Lakes from the county seats. He suggested a shared public health director could alternate between working in Malone, Elizabethtown and Saranac Lake, and that the counties could still find ways to share some public health services even if they don't consolidate directors. Each county pays about $80,000 a year for that position now.

Maroun said it could give ideas for town and school districts to save money, and "show everyone these two counties are thinking out of the box to try to save money and make things work better.

"I think it's something that really should be explored," Maroun said.

"If we can actually share the whole public health offices with each other, it might save money and it might save time," Douglas said.

Douglas said there would be some "stumbling blocks": differences in pay scales, contracts, employee manuals and two different unions to deal with.

There might be state grants available to help cover some of the initial costs of consolidation.



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