Check out the below story from the Observer Tribune about our continued efforts to streamline local government and find new opportunities to share services. You can also click here to access the article.
Mendham, Chester, Washington Township officials consider more shared services
Representatives from the Chesters, Mendhams and Washington Township have been getting together over the past two months to explore additional ways to share services.
The Ad Hoc Shared Service Task Force was initiated by Mendham Township Committeewoman Sarah Neibart with help from Chester Township Councilman Mike Inganamort in an effort to have the towns help each other more on a regional basis. Although the group has only met twice, talks are ongoing and the idea of sharing equipment and manpower in a number of municipal departments in order to reduce costs now and in the future is gaining traction.
“It’s something both Sarah and I had discussed a few months back,’’ Inganamort said. “I think it was because we were both new to our governing bodies. We thought it would be worthwhile. We have had two meetings and they both went really well.’’
Municipalities sharing services is nothing new, but in the past towns have sought agreements on an individual basis. The latest effort was started to look into creating partnerships on a larger scale.
Neibart has made shared services a priority in her Mendham Township Committee activities.
“When I joined my overwhelming priority was lowering property taxes,’’ Neibart said. “I wanted to do everything that I could possibly do to keep costs down.’’
Neibart contacted nearly a dozen area towns to find if they had similar issues and might be able to help each other.
She also contacted Governor Phil Murphy’s shared service czars, Harding Township Committeeman Nicolas Platt and former Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt for their views and advice. She got a perspective that went beyond immediate cost savings.
“When people first talk about shared services it’s to create efficiencies and save money but when Jordan was at the meeting he told us that long term strategic thinking was really important as well as community engagement,’’ Neibart said. “We might think that something is great but the community might not like something we are thinking of for an aesthetic reason or because it creates a whole other host of issues so it is all about what that the community thinks and communication with them.’’
The first meeting on June 26 in Mendham Township was informal, open to the public, and included Washington Township Committeeman Matt Murello and Mendham Borough Councilwoman Christine Serrano Glassner, Bernardsville Councilman John Donohue and several others.
It was more of a general discussion that included the Ad Hoc Committees’ next step. In the end, they decided that the best way to proceed with shared services was to pick a municipal department that might benefit the most and they decided to focus on the public works departments.
“We were looking at how we were repairing equipment or purchasing new equipment,’’ Neibart said. “We wanted to be on the same page on the communication front and see if there was any inefficiencies regarding shared services that we could create.”
Right now among public works departments there are a lot of informal agreements but no actual contracts.
“A lot of times these things don’t have any financial implications, different DPW heads are all colleagues and they all share equipment. They have informal agreements and some formal agreements but it was important for all of us to get together. Get on the same page and see if there was more room for shared services,’’ Neibart said.
By all accounts, the group’s second meeting on July 31 was productive and included the public works directors for the Mendhams, Chesters and Washington Township. Most of them knew each other and worked with each other on projects in the past. Their interaction was an eye opener for the Ad Hoc Committee members.
They discovered that the departments already do a fair amount of sharing with each other.
“They do share equipment,’’ Inganamort said. “If one town needs a bucket truck and another one isn’t using theirs, they can talk to each other to share that. That is not unique. It happens all across the state.’’
Also some municipal departments have members who are more expert at different tasks than others. The puiblic works directors weren’t afraid to put forth some concepts of their own.
“There were some really innovative ideas about creating possible inter-municipal paving crews or all of them going into contributing money for equipment for inter-municipal purchasing agreements,’’ Inganamort said.
The Mendhams and Chesters already have some shared service agreements in place. The Chester Borough Police seem to have folded almost seamlessly into Chester Township to become one unit. Towns also share municipal courts. Mendham Borough and Chester Borough share their court. Mendham Township and Chester Township have also teamed up judiciously.
The task force’s next meeting is planned for early September. Of course anything agreed upon, will have to be taken up with the respective municipal bodies, but It is hoped that the talks will lead to making the unofficial shared service agreements more binding and beneficial to all involved. It might even set the tone for more sharing among other municipal departments as well.
“We had a good discussion on the DPW,’’ Inganamort said. “I expect the next meeting is going to be a continuation of that.’’
The next meeting will be closed to the public mainly because much of the talk will be about department contracts. In the future Neibart is hoping for some open Ad Hoc Committee meetings, including a few outside Mendham Township that may involve public input.
“I would love to do that (an open meeting) and also rotating where we are meeting,’’ Neibart said. “I would love to hear what the other residents of the other municipalities have to say.’’