In January 2017 Onondaga County government consolidated its water department (Metropolitan Water Board or MWB) with the Onondaga County Water Authority (OCWA) which, despite its name, is not part of Onondaga County government. OCWA is an independent authority governed by a board of directors and it sells water to county residents outside the city of Syracuse.
"It's all fluff. There is no savings of OCWA and MWB right now…It was salesmanship to get it passed in the budget. Period. Nobody wants to talk about it though."
Comptroller Robert Antonacci April 12th, 2017 Maxwell School of Citizenship
During the presentation of the proposed 2017 budget, County Executive Mahoney explained that OCWA had projected budgetary savings of $1 million from combining the wholesale water operations of the County's Metro Water Board (MWB) with OCWA's retail water business. You will see on page 55 of the 2017 Onondaga County adopted budget that total appropriations for the Metropolitan Water Board went from $11,347,023 to $3,019,780 and specifically, the total salaries line went from $1,651,781 to $0.
Significant savings are realized by reduced headcount. Both OCWA and Metro Water Board held positions vacant during 2016 in anticipation of the merger of the two workforces. These vacant positions will not need to be filled due to the efficiencies gained by combining the two workforces without any layoffs.
In addition to the spending reductions in Labor and Employee Benefits achieved by reducing headcount in the consolidated organization, the combined operation will also achieve spending reductions by moving all of MWB from the Alexander F. Jones Administrative Center (the headquarters for MWB until December 31, 2016) to existing OCWA facilities. This will reduce the Maintenance, Utilities and Rent expenses for the consolidated operation.
OCWA will also drive down its expenses by combining back office systems and operations, such as budgeting, financial operations, information technology, and law.
OCWA also expects to realize efficiencies by purchasing equipment, goods, and services (including professional services such as architecture and engineering) as a single entity, rather than as two organizations with different procurement systems, policies, and procedures. These efficiencies will be realized within the annual operating and capital budget, which now exceeds $50 million on a consolidated basis. Efficiencies are also expected in the fiscal management of the MWB capital projects that were also transferred to OCWA along with the MWB workforce.
In addition, contrary to the assertion that "nobody wants to talk about it" the topic has been discussed publicly on many occasions. For example, please see the 2017 State of the County found online at www.ongov.net/ongovlive. Starting at 1:14:29 you will hear the County Executive discuss the merger of MWB and OCWA. The merger was also covered by the local media. Links can be found under supporting documentation. Lastly, as with all budget hearings, the Comptroller had a representative present during the conversations taking place at the Ways and Means committee of the Onondaga County Legislature.
2017 Onondaga County Budget (see page 52)
2017 State of the County
"Onondaga County is getting out of the water business" (Syracuse.com)
Fact Check MWB OCWA Letter 4.21.17