The daily news just isn't getting any better. Inflation and rising prices are hitting every home and business hard, and efforts to do things the way we always have just aren't working. The municipal professional who can look at various parts of their local government operation, evaluate its effectiveness, and then come up with viable options is the true leader. During the recession in 2008, the phrase "do more with less" became the mantra for all of us. Now it appears that this mode of operation is even more apropos. So, you’re thinking, “great, tell me something I don’t already know.”
My thirty-plus years as a municipal manager and elected official revealed one thing that seemed consistent in local government. Whether it was out of a spirit of competition amongst communities, or maybe just plain stubbornness, the idea of municipal cooperation didn't seem popular. My personal experience of reaching out to one of our neighbors was repeatedly met with solid resistance. I had hoped that a change in the makeup of their board might provide an opening for meaningful discussion, but even that didn't work. The overriding concern seemed to be that we were looking to gain something at our neighboring municipality’s expense, so they just didn’t trust us.
I am confident now that this feeling of "this is mine, and you can't have it" is slowly changing. Keystone Municipal Solutions (KMS) is seeing a rise in the merger of various aspects of the daily operation of townships and boroughs. There are some considerable advantages to regionalizing services – most notably the ability to stabilize and potentially even reduce costs. Having duplicate services literally on the border with your neighbor seems somewhat archaic. Many are now seeing the advantage of working together with others so that residents are offered similar or even better services than before.
One of the more popular public functions seeing this trend is police service. We hear regularly from municipalities that have had to reduce the size of their force. Some have gone to an all-part-time force with no evening patrols. Others have disbanded their police departments altogether. To be sure, the costs of maintaining a police department are not insignificant. That’s why more communities are exploring a cooperative relationship, creating regionalized police departments, sharing the costs as well as the governance and oversight.
But that is far from the only service that could benefit from a consolidation of efforts. For example, think about your recreation department. You may have limited manpower and equipment, but you can increase that significantly if you combine it with your neighbors. Most residents don't look at a park and say, "I can't have the kids play there; it's not my municipality!" It's a reason to live in the area and not boundary related. KMS can look at your operations and determine if an economy of scale is possible to be valuable to both parties.
How about your water and or sewer systems? Can expertise from your neighbors improve both operations? What public benefit is there to allowing some residents on one side of a street to have access to public water and sewer, while their neighbors on the other side of the street have no such access those public services. In many cases, cooperative relationships between the municipalities can help improve both access and service in a community. As with any agreement between two local governments, "the devil is in the details," and once again, that is where KMS can assist with the process and provide options for all to consider. It has been proven that growth within one community can benefit the neighboring ones by utilizing the amenities that each has to offer. For example: if you allow water to be purchased by the neighbors, you receive the revenue from said use but don't have to provide any other services to them – no garbage pickup, no snowplowing, and no road repairs. It can be a mutually beneficial solution for both municipalities, allowing both to maintain individuality and accountability for their respective residents.
Break out the olive branch and seek out options with your neighbors. Call KMS and let us guide you through the process. "Fire this thing up," we're going to do more with less.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.