1994 Finalist; 1990 Finalist; 1988 Finalist
Winners:
State of New York
1994
Publication:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Sponsored By:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Jurisdiction:
New York

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970s, the federal government has been working through state enforcement mechanisms to improve water quality, requiring local jurisdictions to construct costly water treatment systems to ensure a clean water supply. Conventionally, when tasked with the construction of water and wastewater treatment facilities, the community hires an engineer who subsequently hires a contractor who then hires subcontractors. Labor and materials are marked-up at every step of the process, resulting in escalating costs. The New York State Self-Help Support System (SHSS) enables small towns to cut costs and solve pressing water and wastewater problems by using community resources such as volunteer labor, alternative technologies, road maintenance equipment, and innovative financing to replace expensive contracts.

The SHSS makes use of a set of tools and services that are focused on small rural communities with populations less than 5,000. The primary resource fueling the program is not money, but human talent. Specifically, the program relies on the work of individuals in the communities with entrepreneurial skills. Other resources at the community level used for program operation include existing plants and equipment, as well as town crews and volunteers who become integral to given projects. A multi-disciplined team of state officials from the Departments of State, Health, and Environmental Facilities, offer direct assistance on-site to local governments and communities, assessing the community's potential and readiness and fostering use of alternative technologies. The program helps communities realize and make use of the considerable resources they already have, and, in so doing, offers a new approach to infrastructure repairs and extension that is both affordable and based on community capacity. 

As a result of these strategies, New York’s small towns have been able to complete dozens more projects than their finances originally allowed. In more than 200 towns that have embraced the SHSS, 122 previously unfinished projects have been completed. Costs have been reduced by 35 to 50 percent, with an accrued savings of 18.4 million dollars across all participating towns.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970s, the federal government has been working through state enforcement mechanisms to improve water quality, requiring local jurisdictions to construct costly water treatment systems to ensure a clean water supply. Conventionally, when tasked with the construction of water and wastewater treatment facilities, the community hires an engineer who subsequently hires a contractor who then hires subcontractors. Labor and materials are marked-up at every step of the process, resulting in escalating costs. The New York State Self-Help Support System (SHSS) enables small towns to cut costs and solve pressing water and wastewater problems by using community resources such as volunteer labor, alternative technologies, road maintenance equipment, and innovative financing to replace expensive contracts.

The SHSS makes use of a set of tools and services that are focused on small rural communities with populations less than 5,000. The primary resource fueling the program is not money, but human talent. Specifically, the program relies on the work of individuals in the communities with entrepreneurial skills. Other resources at the community level used for program operation include existing plants and equipment, as well as town crews and volunteers who become integral to given projects. A multi-disciplined team of state officials from the Departments of State, Health, and Environmental Facilities, offer direct assistance on-site to local governments and communities, assessing the community's potential and readiness and fostering use of alternative technologies. The program helps communities realize and make use of the considerable resources they already have, and, in so doing, offers a new approach to infrastructure repairs and extension that is both affordable and based on community capacity.

As a result of these strategies, New York’s small towns have been able to complete dozens more projects than their finances originally allowed. In more than 200 towns that have embraced the SHSS, 122 previously unfinished projects have been completed. Costs have been reduced by 35 to 50 percent, with an accrued savings of 18.4 million dollars across all participating towns.