In the area of municipal management, shared services has become a significant part of the municipal management reality in recent years, especially as municipalities look for ways to save vital funds in their annual budgets. Shared services can help municipalities increase effectiveness and efficiency in their operation. As municipal responsibilities become increasingly complex and demanding, more municipalities are exploring shared services and other cooperative opportunities as a way to reduce or avoid costs, improve service delivery, or maintain services.
At the Annual NJMMA conference this past September, the organization assembled a panel discussion, led by municipal management professionals from Somerset County that addressed many of the key elements and successes a handful of municipalities have enjoyed as a result of shared services contracts.
Somerset County, and its Administrator Colleen Mahr, do a great job in the area of shared services, most recently debuting an online Shared Services Marketplace, where public entities can utilize the marketplace to access services. This online platform offers other municipalities to access services they may not have in their own towns, excess supplies from Somerset County that can be purchased, and the ability to enter into other shared service arrangements with the County and their towns. The platform is serving as a useful resource, and as a model for the effective exchange of skills and services for government entities across the state.
East Brunswick Administrator Joe Criscuolo helps manage a commodity resale system for the municipality, making gasoline for town vehicles, snow removal and related chemicals, public works materials, and more available to other towns. In exchange for payment and other services, the township maintains shared services relationships with other towns for services performed within their municipality.
“Shared services requires a win-win-win formula,” said Michael Pitts, the Chief Financial Officer and Tax Collector for Montgomery Township. “It must work for the providing and receiving agencies, as well as municipal employees. In the end, effective shared services creates additional revenue streams, appropriations reductions, and enhanced grant subsidies, all while improving service quality to taxpayers and enhancing fiscal responsibility.”
Mount Olive’s Administrator Andrew Tatarenko manages the township’s 12 shared services contracts with towns across three separate counties. He recommends that municipalities do their best to maximize both shared services contracts and grant opportunities. Tatrenko spent some time explaining how his municipality was able to make significant capital purchases through challenge grants and implementation grants under the state’s LEAP Grant Program. He also provided a glimpse into the New Jersey Shared Services program, launched in 2018, and the assistance of the state’s Division of Local Government Services in regards to shared services arrangements.
The panel concluded with an overview from Intashan Chowdhury, the Administrator for Propect Park Borough. The municipality maintains 14 shared services contracts across two counties. Through shared services, the relatively small municipal entity has realized an annual average of $215,000 in additional municipal revenue and has realized more than $760 in savings as the receiving ahred services entity.
“Municipalities must not have a business as usual approach,” said Chowdhury. “The success of shared services directly involves an effective roadmap that fixes or improves standard process, grows cost savings, and enhances service delivery. Prospect Park has found significant cost and operational efficiencies through an active shared services relationship with its Board of Education. Together, the municipality and the schools have gotten creative, sharing personnel for grant writing, recreation services and information technology, all resulting in significant cost saving for both entities.
One thing that the panel agreed on as a whole is that for some municipal entities, shared services will remain an intriguing concept that doesn't fit their needs. But, for many, it represents exactly the right model to take advantage of promising opportunities and buying power that makes the most of skills, equipment and commodities that other divisions, municipal entities, counties, or other government organizations can also use.