County government has experienced “complete transformation” in past decade

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 January 2016 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson speaks during Friday’s Legislative Luncheon at Tillman’s Village Inn.

GAINES – Orleans County government leaders are tackling infrastructure projects, streamlining departments, and partnering with neighboring counties for some services in a push to reduce costs to taxpayers.

“The county is witnessing a complete transformation of county government over the last decade,” Lynne Johnson, Orleans County Legislature vice chairwoman, told about 100 people Friday during the Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon.

The county has reduced the number of employees on the government payroll by 124 full-time and 69 part-time since 2011, with the sale of The Villages of Orleans, the county nursing home, accounting for many of those.

The sale of the nursing home, shared services among local governments and other staff reductions are part of $10.5 million identified in taxpayer savings the past three years, Johnson told the Chamber crowd.

Johnson said the workforce is leaner, and is working faster and smarter, utilizing more technology.

“The business of county government has gotten increasingly complicated over the last decade and we strive to hire good, smart, creative leaders to face those challenges,” she said.

Orleans has become a leader in the state with its “unprecedented” collaborations with other counties, she said, citing shared public health services, tax mapping, Stop DWI and the youth bureau with Genesee County. Orleans also is partnering with Niagara County in a push for high-speed Internet in rural underserved areas.

Johnson highlighted investments in new emergency communications for first responders, $8 million in capital projects with new roofs, bridges and culverts. The county also staved off pressure from the state for a new jail by spending $1 million in the current building, making it meet state standards.

County officials are pressing state leaders to better maintain state-owned bridges and roads in the county, she said, and the federal government also hears from Orleans on the importance of dredging the Oak Orchard Harbor for boaters to support the county’s tourism industry.

Johnson praised the efforts of the Orleans Economic Development Agency for recruiting Pride Pak, a Canadian company, to spend $12.5 million for a new vegetable processing plant in Medina. Pride Pak is expected to have 40 employees in its first year, another 40 the second year and would reach about 200 at full capacity.

The EDA also has worked for “shovel ready” sites in Medina and Shelby that have access to infrastructure. Johnson said a new hotel could commit soon to the county, and the EDA secured a $600,000 state grant for a “spec” building that will make it faster for a developer to be in business in Orleans County.

She also cited efforts by the county’s Mental Health Department to develop satellite offices at school districts and expand same-day, walk-in services at the county clinic.

Unfunded mandates, crime and community development remain challenges, but Johnson said the county is “better positioned than ever to make a difference.”