At a time when municipalities are economically stressed as never before, shared municipal services is an idea whose time may have come.
In New Jersey, four municipalities agreed last March to share a court in Madison’s Hartley Dodge Memorial Building, which is expected to save millions of dollars. In Rhode Island last month, two bills that would allow cities and towns to explore ways to save money by sharing municipal services won unanimous approval in the state Senate.
Municipalities are considering shared services at a time when state and local governments are still mired in recession. They cut 30,000 jobs in May, the seventh straight month they’ve cut workers, according to the Associated Press. The result is communities offering residents reduced services and reduced personnel, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters. The AP cites instances in Monticello, Ga, where the police force was cut in half to five officers and Zanesville, Ohio, which was forced to cut nearly 50 school jobs.
Local governments, which are dependent on property tax revenues, have been especially hurt by the collapse in home prices. Many communities have turned to, or are considering, shared services as a cost-effective way to reduce the property tax burden. They achieve this in part by combining their purchasing power. This in turn reduces their expenditures, requiring less property tax revenue to replace it.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year called for regional cooperation and shared services in local governments. "Local officials deserve credit for continually finding ways to make effective use of their limited resources," Snyder said in a speech. "However, antiquated laws often discourage them from taking broader steps such as consolidating or sharing services with neighboring communities. It is time that we view both challenges and solutions in a regional context rather than confining them to township, city and county borders," he said.