FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
By Gregory T. Federspiel
At last April’s Annual Town Meeting, voters voiced their support for exploring opportunities for sharing services with our neighboring communities. Conversations with a number of our neighbors have been on-going as we begin this exploration. The conversations with Essex will continue at next Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting where the Selectmen from Essex will be attending.
Manchester has a few shared service agreements already in place. The biggest one, of course, is the regional school district where Essex and Manchester have joined together in providing for the education of our students. We also have formed a Veteran’s Service District with Gloucester and Rockport in order to take advantage of the Veteran’s Affairs Office the City already has. A small intermunicipal agreement with Hamilton for the services of a shared Animal Control Officer is also in place.
These arrangements illustrate two types of shared service agreements that are possible – the creation of a formal multi-town district like the school district and the veteran’s district which actually creates new legal entities, and intermunicipal agreements that are a less complicated way of towns agreeing to share services. A third, even more basic approach is through mutual aid agreements. We have these for public safety and DPW operations – essentially if we have an emergency we can call on another community to assist us and we will do the same if the situation is reversed.
Every community, regardless of its size, faces similar challenges. We all have aging infrastructure that needs reinvestment. We all have employees that have on-going training, benefit administration, and other human resource needs. We all provide public safety and public works functions. Tax dollars are at a premium and balancing our budgets while maintaining the services residents want is a perennial problem that seems to grow harder with each passing year. Outside of New England, the rest of the country provides many services on a multi-municipal level, typically through a county entity or other special district.
We have an obligation to stretch tax payer dollars as far as we possibly can. In the future this could mean more regionalized services. While shared services may not always reduce costs, it may help prevent cost escalations while enhancing services. There are many interesting examples being developed in other communities and we would do well to learn from these efforts.
We are in the very early stages of discussions with Essex about options that we may want to explore further. Similar discussions are taking place with our other neighboring commununities. Once a few promising areas are identified we will develop more detailed plans with the help of grant funded technical assistance and community input. Future public presentations will be part of the process. Your ideas and input are encouraged.