Lessons from Successful Collaborations
by Gregory C. Fehrenbach
Coordinator, League of Municipalities Interlocal Municipal Coorperation & Management Program
Over the years, the Division of Local Government Services has encouraged interlocal cooperation among New Jersey municipalities. The Local Government Budget Review Teams from the Department of Treasury identified best practices of municipalities they studied. Among these best practices were incidents of interlocal cooperation among municipalities. This article will draw upon the work of these two agencies to provide examples of cooperation and offer ideas about how your municipality can find ways to cooperate in the future.
First, however, we should look at the ways in which municipalities appear to get started. A myriad of methods exist to approach the subject of cooperating with neighboring municipalities or your school district to find ways to reduce costs of providing needed or desired services to your residents. The only limitation is your imagination, and sometimes the law. We will look at several ways in which you and your staff can examine the possibility of saving money through cooperation.
Money is a Great Motivator! Absent grant monies, there are obvious dollar savings that will incur to municipalities who choose to cooperate with others to provide common services. Whether these savings come from increased “economies of scale,” “filling time or resource gaps,” or slight increases in efficiencies are of no matter. There are dollars to be found in the process. In order to provide an even greater inducement for municipalities to pursue cooperation, the State of New Jersey offers financial rewards for those who actively pursue interlocal cooperation.
The SHARE program has motivated many elected and appointed officials to investigate potential interlocal services with grant money. Since November, the Department of Community Affairs has provided a number of grants for this purpose. The following include grants provided during Rounds 1 and 2 of this grant program:
•Beach Haven Borough $20,000 Feasibility Study of Joint Police Services
•Bernards Township $94,000 Implementation Aid for Internet Based Recreation Service Registration
•Burlington County $21,000 Regional Coordination Grant
•Cape May County $74,000 Implementation Aid for the Cape May County Animal Control Shelter and Program
•Chatham Township $14,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Recreation Services
•Freehold Township $10,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Health Services
•Irvington Township $100,000 Implementation Aid for Shared Fire Service Communications
•Long Branch City $14,250 Implementation Aid for Shared Information Technology Staff
•Maplewood Township $20,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Services
•Oaklyn Borough $100,000 Implementation Aid for a Joint Municipal Court
•Ocean City $37,500 Implementation Aid for the Ocean City Solar Power Program
•Plumsted Township $39,000 Implementation Aid for Project TechSHARE
•Pohatcong Township $8,333 Feasibility Study of Shared Police Services
•Pohatcong Township $18,400 Feasibility Study of Shared Public Works and Road Department Services
•Princeton Borough $20,000 Feasibility Study of Joint Police Dispatching
•River Edge Borough $15,000 Feasibility Study of “Tri-Boro Garbage Collection”
•Westwood Borough $20,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Police Services
•Wharton Borough $33,375 Implementation Aid for a Joint Municipal Court
•Belmar Borough $20,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Public Safety Communications
•Bernards Township $100,000 Implementation Aid for Shared Police Communications
•Commercial Township $6,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Ambulance Services
•Holmdel Township $14,000 Feasibility study of Shared Vehicle Maintenance and Buildings and Grounds Programs
•Holmdel Township $62,400 Implementation aid for Shared Recreation Administrative Services
•Manville Borough $10,000 Feasibility Study of Shared Public Health Services
•Pilesgrove Township $40,000 Implementation Aid for a Joint Municipal Court
Recently, the Director of the Division of Local Government Services announced a rolling application process in which municipalities may apply for grants when the need exists, not based upon a set submission deadline. This change makes the program even more “user friendly” for those interested in seeking monies to assist in the implementation of a cooperation agreement or those seeking to determine the feasibility of a cooperative project.
Seize an Opportunity Often the genesis of a successful interlocal service pursuit has been appointed and/or elected officials seizing an opportunity for change. It is difficult to advocate change when someone or something might suffer as the result of the action.
Administrative and elected leaders need to be aware when a vacuum develops, which may provide the opportunity for an interlocal service. Some potential opportunities are listed here for your consideration:
•Identify an internal opportunity for change such as a retirement or resignation from a key position such as a division or department head.
•Identify a service being offered by a neighbor for which residents have expressed a desire but your municipality has not been able to justify financially.
•Join with like-minded municipalities to examine an area of interest, such as the Technology Consortium where 13 municipalities have collaborated on common needs but have only spent small sums to satisfy these needs.
•Identify a service both the municipality and the school district need, such as information technology or telecommunications services, but cannot justify individually.
•Join with other municipalities to increase your bargaining power when approaching a vendor to seek a cost reduction.
•Set up a group of neighboring municipalities to periodically examine opportunities to perform services in concert at a less expensive cost to your residents as have 13 municipalities in Bergen County.
•Set up standing committees on a County basis such as Somerset County in which specific subject areas are regularly examined for opportunities to perform services together.
•Join with neighboring communities to petition the county to examine the feasibility of selling services to municipalities similar to California’s Lakewood Plan. The county could begin with services they already provide and move into areas where economies of scale strongly support a central source of supply. These could be road maintenance services or the supply of various road maintenance materials.
•Identify the expiration of an individual contract for a commonly used service and examine how several municipalities might incrementally join to effect economies.
What Have Others Done? As was said above, the only limitation to what you can do is your imagination, and sometimes the law. However, sometimes we need ideas of others to get us started. Most of us are familiar with the concept that inventions grow out of prior inventions. For example, it would have been quite difficult to invent the bicycle had the wheel, the gear and a number of other parts not been invented first. Similarly, knowing what others have done may make it easier to identify that which would best serve your special constituency.
Here are some examples of interlocal cooperative ventures:
•Tri-community solid waste collection service feasibility studies in River Edge, Oradell and New Milford and in Fair Haven, Little Silver and Red Bank;
•Municipal and school district information technology and telecommunications systems feasibility studies and implementations in Woodbridge, Vineland, Plumsted, Galloway, Long Branch and others;
•Joint municipal technology Lincoln Park and Boonton, several Morris County municipalities including Florham Park, Randolph, Mendham, and Morris Plains;
•Joint emergency service communications in Irvington and Maplewood, the Princetons, Gloucester and Ocean counties, Ship Bottom and Surf City;
•Shared police services feasibility studies in Beach Haven and Long Beach, Wharton and Mine Hill, Pohatcong and Alpha, among others;
•Joint municipal courts in Cranbury and Plainsboro, Sayreville and South Amboy, Wharton and Mine Hill, Oaklyn and Mount Ephraim;
•Joint employees in Highland Park and Metuchen, Hardyston and Franklin;
•Tri-community beach maintenance and cleaning in Avon, Bradley Beach and Ocean Grove (Neptune);
•Construction code services in Tewksbury, Califon and Lebanon and Wantage, Sussex and Hamburg;
•Joint Animal Control Services and joint animal shelters in many
•Health services offered by municipalities, counties and/or regional consortia;
•Right to Know and PEOSHA required training;
•Joint fueling and large truck washing facilities;
•Public works equipment sharing agreements in many locations;
•Joint Snow Materials Storage Facility, Somerset County, Bridgewater and Branchburg.
Shared Services Resources
•Local Government Budget Review Team Municipal and School District Studies and “A Collection of Municipal Best Practices” located at www.state.nj.us/treasury/lgbr.
•Division of Local Government Services SHARE application information located at www.state.nj.us/dca/lgs.
•Interlocal Services: A Reference Guide to Joint Delivery of Services, DCA/LGS, November 1999.
•Report of Recommendations to Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Property Tax Commission, September 1998.
•Cooperative Pricing and Joint Purchasing Systems Rule, N.J.A.C. 5:34-7, DCA/LGS, November 1995.
•Shared Services Directory, DCA, October 1995.
•Local Government Share Services and Municipal Consolidation: A Report and an Agenda, DCA/LGS, August 1995.
*Source: Division of Local Government Services and Local Government Budget Review Team, various documents.
Originally published in the November 2005 issue of New Jersey Municipalities, pp. 118-120 .
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