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Shared programs by Butler County government agencies benefit many

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Photo by Bill Vidonic
Jason Dailey, Cranberry public works director, demonstrates a retroreflectometer, which measures the reflection of a street sign. The Butler County Council of Governments bought the device for $20,000, and it is shared by local municipalities, saving them money.

After starting a health-care cooperative that saved local municipalities more than $1 million, the Butler County Council of Governments is gauging interest on other ideas that could help communities control costs and budgets.

The group is exploring a vehicle leasing program, whether it would be cheaper to use propane-gas vehicles and, if there's enough interest, to cooperate on grant applications, Executive Director Jeff Smith said.

“With smaller municipalities, maybe you don't plan ahead as well as you could,” Smith said. “You might have an old truck breaking down a lot, and you're scrambling to spend $25,000 or $30,000. This could help with the budgeting process.”

COGs are voluntary regional bodies that unite government agencies seeking to share resources. The Butler County COG represents communities where about two-thirds of Butler County's 185,000 residents live.

“The Butler County COG has been a success story,” Smith said, pointing to the health-care cooperative. “We have delivered value. For every dollar paid in dues, municipalities are getting back $4 or $5 in benefits.”

The Butler COG recently received the Annual Governor's Award for Local Government Excellence for the creation of COG Care, which provides health coverage for more than 1,165 people employed by nearly 80 municipal governments, water and sewer authorities in Western Pennsylvania and the Northern Regional Police Department in northern Allegheny County.

The award “is recognition of your dedication to public service and a celebration of leadership and innovation that has resulted in vibrant communities for the citizens you serve,” Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley said.

The first-year savings for COG Care in 2011, with seven COGs and 41 municipalities participating, was estimated at $1.1 million, with projected three-year savings at $1.8 million.

“This way exceeded my expectations,” said Smith.

Cranberry Manager Jerry Andree said his township has likely saved more than $250,000 over the past five years by participating in COG and its shared-buying programs.

“Our board has been huge supporters of COG,” Andree said. “It knows the value of intermunicipal cooperation, and how to work together to save all our taxpayers money.”

Butler COG has purchased a $20,000 device that municipalities can use to measure the brightness of street signs and an asphalt crack-sealing machine for $100,000 that communities can rent for $600. COG uses fees from renting the sealer to purchase other equipment, said Cranberry public works Director Jason Dailey, also the secretary for the Butler COG board.

“It's a tremendous benefit to our members,” he said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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