This case study is the product of a Request For Proposal issued by the South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG) for an Inter-Municipal Shared Services Feasibility Study in April, 2013. EDGE Technology Services was awarded a Management Consulting Agreement to perform this Scope of Work (SOW).
The Consulting Agreement, was to “complete an Inter-Municipal Shared Services Study for the South Central Region”, comprised of 15 municipalities: Bethany, Branford, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Wallingford, West Haven and Woodbridge.
A team comprised of SCRCOG Executive Director and EDGE Technology Services consultants (EDGE team) agreed upon the methodology of face-to-face meetings with each of the member municipalities.
The EDGE team then set about the process of meeting with representatives of each member municipality. The meetings were both informative and important to understanding the operations of each of the member organizations.
The EDGE team gathered information from each member and catalogued their responses. Following the data gathering phase, the EDGE team provided analysis of the responses to determine target areas where additional efforts by members would likely yield measurable benefits to their respective jurisdictions.
The EDGE team focused upon five key areas within each municipality: Town to Board of Education activity, Purchasing, Public Services, such as licensing, permitting & animal control, Public Works, Information Technology and Expert Services.
This report is the result of those interviews as well as other research aimed at identifying best practices being followed both in and outside the immediate membership of the SCRCOG. The result of the study was the EDGE team’s observations and recommendations for future consideration by both the SCRCOG and its individual member municipalities.
The EDGE team has no doubt that there is room to find new efficiencies in the daily operations of the member organizations. However, we did not presume to set the municipalities priorities for any given opportunity.
The EDGE team had expected that one barrier to inter-municipal sharing would be legal considerations and the need for contractual agreements between the municipalities. This was not the case.
In many instances, the EDGE team discovered town after town reaching out to share their equipment with their neighbor when the need was known. Very few felt the need to reduce these arrangements to writing, let alone legal documents. Rather a more common sense approach prevailed.
In general, the members of the South Central Regional Council of Governments appear to have a sense of community that results in a genuine desire to help each other when the need arises.
Another thing all municipalities have in common is the economic situation and the intense pressures on their organizations to do much more with less. It may well be this increasing pressure that makes change inevitable and requires more cooperation between the towns. One consideration is the adoption of a Regional model for the delivery of basic services to their constituents.
While the regionalization of service delivery is far more complex than this survey is tasked to resolve, it seems inevitable that this model must be given serious consideration since there are very few alternatives.
The present system, where towns essentially provide for their own needs, is endangered by the economic conditions and the unlikely proposition that local taxes can continue to grow to meet increased constituent demand for services.
The geographic boundaries that separate Towns today may well morph into simple geopolitical lines that have little to do with how constituents are serviced. As technology continues to develop, it will become clear that physical boundaries are not major hurdles for consolidation of such things as Police and Fire Dispatch and emergency services, and purchasing just to name a few examples. While there are hurdles to overcome in order to implement a regional model for these services, affordability may well be the trump card that drives a shift in perspective on the benefits of regionalization.
The situation may also invite a rethinking of the role of private industry in the management of constituent services within the region. In many ways, the private sector has had to make the same adjustments in their business model that the municipalities now face.
Partnering with the private sector could prove to be a valuable asset for towns in solving some of these challenging issues. Towns would be well served to consider offering another seat at the table where business can help their region re-think solutions to some of these very complex issues. The notion of public-private partnerships has been in play for several years at other levels of government and its time may have arrived at the municipal level as well.
Our survey of the 15 municipalities in the SCRCOG included population variation from approximately 5,600 to as many as 129,000 and median household income ranging from $38,000 to $127,000.
With a group as seemingly diverse as these statistics indicate, it is surprising that the issues and challenges faced by each municipality are at least in the same general categories. Most involve finding new and more efficient ways to deliver constituent services with less money and staff.
The study encompassed the following areas: Purchasing, Capital Purchasing, Boards of Education, Employee Benefits, Public Works, Grants and Energy Initiatives. The Study also covered Information Technology, Phone Systems, Medical Transportation and Expert Services.
As part of this study, EDGE identified some Municipal Best Practices to promote greater interest among the SCRCOG Municipalities and to create a dialogue among peers that in the long run will offer many more opportunities for peer to peer communications within the Region.