Shared services and consolidation should both be pursued to reduce local government costs
I would like to share information on two commonly-misunderstood terms often used in local government: shared services and consolidation.
Shared services occur when municipalities agree to work together on tasks to benefit both at a lower cost. An example might be if one municipality owns a lift truck, which can be used to trim trees. In a city like Rochester, the truck might be in use all the time every day. In a small town or village, the truck is likely to be idle some of the time. Both municipalities might use the truck for tree trimming in both communities. Road crews from both municipalities might work together to use the truck for large jobs in either location. The result saves both communities money and provides better services to all involved.
Consolidation is both simpler and more complex. In consolidation, tasks or missions that are the same in both communities are combined: location, staffing, equipment and immediate management all occur in one organization. This can only happen when both communities have the same need, both communities can work together, both communities support the work, and both communities are close together.
An example might be salt storage for treating roads in winter. Specifically, both the Town of Albion and the Village of Albion use salt extensively. Both maintain salt sheds within a mile of one another, and both have front end loaders to load the salt. If they combined salt storage, they would need to maintain one shed and one loader.
It seems simple, but it is not. Neither existing shed is large enough for salt storage without paying for more salt in mid-winter when prices are high, or even worse running out when we need it most. Where do they put a new salt shed? Who operates the loader? Village and Town roads are different: if one road crew uses salt more intensively than the other, how do they make sure that cost for salt falls on taxpayers fairly? How do they deal with increased truck traffic in one location, especially if it is near a school? How do they make sure trucks are filled efficiently, without lining up and having to wait? The hardest question of all is how do we pay for the new shed and loader, and who owns it afterwards?
Consolidation always costs money up front. Good, well-chosen consolidation efforts will save money in time. Consolidation merely for consolidation will cost us money up front and will provide us with worse and more expensive service over time. Consolidation is a truly difficult task and requires effort from our best and brightest, but if it’s done right we all benefit. Shared services are easily arranged, can be easily modified, and usually provide savings from the day they’re implemented.
Our local leaders should pursue both shared services and consolidation to get the best use out of every single dollar of our local taxes.
(Mr. Katsanis is a candidate for the Albion Village Board)