OSWEGO — Three years after county lawmakers approved a deal eliminating the Oswego County Purchasing Department and handed over much of the procurement processes to Onondaga County, that arrangement has now ended.
The Oswego County Legislature unanimously approved termination of the purchasing consolidation initially approved by county legislators in September 2017. The termination marks the end of a multi-year arrangement during which $50,000 per year was paid to Onondaga County for purchasing services, including developing and handling bid specifications, documents and advertisement.
Under the 2017 agreement, the two counties each maintained the right to award their own bids for contracts and administered those contracts separately, but Onondaga County was obligated to handle most of the administrative and clerical tasks.
County officials in 2017 said the deal could save as much as $100,000 each year by reducing payroll — it essentially eliminated two positions.
Along with payroll cuts, streamlining services and increased purchasing volume would have ideally worked to drive down costs. Lawmakers say the partnership ultimately did not work out as well as intended and axed the deal last week effective in April.
Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, said there were a number of aspects of the purchasing consolidation that "didn't fit for Oswego County." Wilbur said the county purchases a large volume and a wide variety of items, ranging from vehicles to equipment and office supplies, and at the end of the day the county is better served to keep purchasing in-house.
"It just didn't go right," Wilbur said. "Our departments were lagging in the time they were able to get their items back."
Oswego County Administrator Phil Church presented the move as part of the 2021 county budget proposal, which includes a modest property tax decrease. Church said ending the purchasing deal would "require basically reversing everything we did to move it to Onondaga (County)."
There was some opposition to the deal at the time it was established, with a number of county Democrats questioning whether or not the move would save money and expressing concern about outsourcing purchasing and losing some local control. Minority Leader Tom Drumm, D-Oswego, said Democrats, though proponents of consolidation, were never content with the Onondaga County purchasing agreement and opposed the measure out of the gate three years ago.
"Some of us didn't have a good feeling about it, so I think we've kind of seen that come to fruition," Drumm said, crediting the Republican majority in the county Legislature for recognizing the failures of the consolidation and reversing the move. "It's better to scrap a bad idea than to double down on it."
In a moment of foresight, longtime Legislator John Proud, who died last November but at the time represented the town and village of Mexico, reminded fellow lawmakers that the deal did not establish "a forever relationship” with Onondaga County purchasing, and asked legislators to try the proposed arrangement.
Wilbur said the county made an honest attempt at partnership and thanked Onondaga County for their efforts, but admitted the relationship ultimately was too convoluted and county employees at times had trouble with the arrangement.
"Bringing it back in house we're going to alleviate all of those issues," Wilbur said, noting the county could continue to pair with Onondaga County on some major purchases, such as road salt.
The move did create "a little bit” of savings largely due to the elimination of two positions, Wilbur said, but in the end the savings did not outweigh the costs of delayed purchases. County officials plan to start transitioning purchasing activities back to Oswego County as of Jan. 1 and intend to have a fully staffed purchasing department up and running by April when the contract with Onondaga County ends. Officials say the return of purchasing to Oswego County would provide an opportunity to develop a more modern and streamlined department.
"This is not going to be the old Oswego County Purchasing Department," Church said. "It will be fully modernized purchasing. There will be improvements all through it."
Drumm called the reestablishment of Oswego County purchasing "one of the best things about" the proposed 2021 spending and revenue plan, and believes the move provides the county with an opportunity to modernize and streamline the department to better serve the county and its residents.
The revamped purchasing department would be faster, paperless and easier for vendors to use, Church said, adding the county can utilize previously purchased and implemented software to streamline the processes. Wilbur said that software would help shape the future purchasing division a little differently and more effectively than in the past, in addition to saving money.
"I have confidence that when we get purchasing back it'll be running smoothly,” Wilbur said, adding it could open opportunities for the county to assist local towns and villages with their purchasing.