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County contracts topic of legislature

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - Updated: 10:17 AM


FONDA -- Power over contracts was called into question Tuesday as the Montgomery County Legislature reviewed agreements approved by Executive Matthew Ossenfort.

Per the county's procurement policy, Ossenfort is permitted to approve contracts up to $75,000 without legislative approval. However, contracts must be detailed in a procurement record for review by the legislature.

The first of those procurement records, detailing contracts made in May and June, appeared before the legislature at Tuesday's regular meeting.

"This is the first month this has come before us," District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler said. "This is good and thorough checks and balances. It is a good procedure."

Wheeler presided over the meeting as deputy chairwoman since Chairman Thomas Quackenbush was absent.

After reviewing the list, District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz raised concern that several multi-year contracts were approved in May and June, against the advice of the state Association of Counties.

"NYSAC wants multi-year agreements to be brought to the legislature, as well as intermunicipal agreements," Weitz said. "I wonder whether this complies with the NYSAC opinion."

According to the procurement record, Ossenfort approved multi-year agreements with two contractors in May. One is with Linstar for $1,575. The second is a three-year, $40,000 contract with Sierra Processing, the company hired to transport recyclables from the county transfer station to the processing center.

In June, Ossenfort signed a municipal agreement with the village of Canajoharie to use its wastewater treatment facility to treat leachate from the county's landfills.

The topic of which branch of county government has authority over contracts has been an ongoing discussion between the legislature and Ossenfort since the charter form of government was instituted in January.

The issue has been tackled in several meetings regarding amendments to the charter.

Weitz reminded the legislature that at a meeting in June, NYSAC special counsel Patrick Cummings advised the group that the county executive has power over general service contracts, which is outlined in the procurement policy adopted in April.

Other contracts, such as intermunicipal agreements and real property and leases, is under the control of the legislature. Most business concerning real property and shared services is subject to appropriations, which the legislature handles in its control over the county budget.

County attorney Douglas Landon said one could argue that the contracts were made before NYSAC's ruling on June 17. Landon reminded legislators that Cummings' opinion was just that -- an opinion.

"I don't agree with all the opinions of NYSAC. My understanding is that the county executive can seek approval when appropriate," Landon said. "There has been no formal ruling by anyone who has authority on the issue, as to answers to some of these questions."

Weitz agreed, and suggested that something be put in place temporarily until the charter amendments are complete.

"I would like to see a written response or opinion via the attorney and the executive stating how we are going to proceed until amendments are going to be made," he said, adding that the legislature has already approved two resolutions for multi-year contracts.

Wheeler suggested they move forward, assessing the data on a case-by-case basis.

District 9 Legislator Alexander Kuchis thanked Ossenfort for being transparent with the contracts.

In addition to the three multi-year contracts, there were 10 other contracts signed in June, the majority of which had to do with Department of Public Heath and several preschool groups to provide service between July 2014 and June 2015.


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