Getting Started

Cultivate Local Project Champions

Strong leadership is vital to the successful implementation of a project. A project with support from influential local stakeholders will likely be easier to implement and overall more successful. Thus, it is important to find local allies and project champions who can help facilitate the process and lead the charge to overcome any barriers. While such a champion may be a mayor, town manager, or a department head, any community resident or staff member with energy, influence and confidence in the project can be a local champion. Often, who are not “in power” can help drive a project to success and bring an entire community or department on board.

It can be challenging to finding and cultivate a spokesperson who is knowledgeable, generates respect and is skilled at building consensus for the project.

Examples of Successful Municipal Collaborations

Regional Purchasing IMA
The towns of Brookfield, East Brookfield, North Brookfield, Warren and West Brookfield formed a regional committee of selectmen to explore and then carry through an intermunicipal agreement for the joint purchasing of office and maintenance supplies in 2011.

Melrose-Wakefield Public Health Department Merger
The mayor of Melrose, town manager of Wakefield, and Melrose health department director played key roles in the development and implementation of a public health department merger between the two municipalities in 2009 through an intermunicipal agreement. All three leaders committed to the project and then worked with the respective Boards of Health and staff to make sure they explored all challenges and opportunities.

Include Key Stakeholders

Shared service projects may arise through ideas at all levels of government – from management to staff. While there is no right order in which to engage stakeholders, it is important to keep in mind that both management and staff should be included at appropriate times throughout the entire planning and implementation process. Many attempts at working collaboratively have failed because the process did not include adequate stakeholder involvement.

Keep in mind that it is crucial to obtain the support of municipal management. Municipal leaders – either mayors, boards of selectmen, fire chiefs or department heads – should be supportive of a project and will be crucial to engaging other communities in a project. These officials have the ability to either vote for a project or stall its development and, similarly, they can help bring on more supporters or engage such people as opponents. Moreover, intermunicipal agreements require approval from each municipality’s chief elected official.

Involving staff is equally important, although it may be difficult to work with people whose jobs or duties may be affected by the shared service project. However, engaging such staff may help reduce possible objections and diminish the likelihood of false perceptions forming through the planning process. In short, working with a diverse team of stakeholders provides the opportunity to address potential concerns promptly so that these issues do not undermine the program later in the process.

Examples of Municipal Collaborations That Have Included Key Stakeholders

The Central Middlesex Emergency Response Association
The towns of Acton, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Littleton, Maynard and Weston, led by their fire chiefs and town managers, banded together to look for new ways to deliver regional paramedic services. The communities formed an executive board comprised of town managers, fire chiefs, and Emerson Hospital to formalize their options and make a recommendation to all of the towns. The program began in 2010 with endorsed intermunicipal agreements.

Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services
The municipalities involved in establishing the shared veterans’ agent position credited open dialogue and agreement of purpose in its successful endorsement. The City of Northampton veterans’ agent serves all veterans in Northampton, Williamsburg, Amherst, Pelham, Chesterfield, Cummington, and in the VA Medical Center in Leeds through an intermunicipal agreement.

Intermunicipal Cooperation Committee on the Outer Cape
In 2008, the selectmen from the towns of Eastham, Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet held a joint meeting for the first time in anyone’s memory to discuss shared issues. They then formed the Intermunicipal Cooperation Committee, which began to identify the most easily attainable opportunities for collaboration. Many successful collaborations have sprung forth since then, such as a regional police department merger.

Establish A Planning Committee

Depending upon the complexity and sensitivity of the project, a planning committee should be formed to work through the feasibility, planning, analysis and implementation phases of a project. The planning committee should include elected and/or appointed officials and/or town administrators, municipal employees, and other stakeholders. The Planning Committee members from each community should be required to report regularly to the chief elected official(s) to ensure that the needs and interests of the community are well represented.

Examples of Successful Municipal Agreements (Goals and Objectives)

Gardner Collaborative Transportation Bid
The Gardner, Winchendon, Narragansett and Ashburnham-Westminster school districts initiated discussions in 2010 to determine if there would be cost efficiencies for each of the respective school districts if they submitted a joint bid for student transportation services.

Representatives from each school district attended pre-proposal meetings, where they established agreed upon specifications for the bid. The bid was successful, and a three-year contract of $1,608,579 went into effect July 1, 2011.

Sudbury and the Regional Housing Service Office (RHSO)
During the process of establising an intermunicipal agreement for shared housing services, the towns of Sudbury, Bedford, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln and Weston agreed that the goals of the project were to develop the following services areas: monitoring, ready buyer/ready renter list; administration of the HOME Program and affordable housing planning and advocacy. The agreement went into effect July 2011.

Set Ground Rules for Discussion

Stakeholders should agree as soon as possible on the rules and procedures that the project committee will adhere to during the planning and implantation process. In particular, the project committee should consider:

  • Who will participate in the process;
  • What role each committee member shall play;
  • Where the meetings will be conducted;
  • How the meetings will be conducted, e.g., Robert’s Rules of Order;
  • Whether meetings will be closed or open to the public;
  • What other community stakeholders will need to be engaged in the process and when they will need to be engaged; and
  • Whether the meeting is subject to open meeting laws.

It may be challenging to reconcile differences and set uniform ground rules if each participating municipality has its own process for making decisions. In addition, agreeing on rules of engagement for the time period beyond the initial planning process can be difficult – for example, determining how to make changes to the agreement, amend the shared services or change the composition of the committee.

However, these rules and procedures will help the committee tackle the potentially difficult conversations that lie ahead and also help create a transparent process. In addition, participants at this phase could later become part of any advisory committee and provide oversight during implementation. Establishing a good working environment will help facilitate successful conversation throughout the process.

Examples of Successful Municipal Collaborations

Sudbury and the Regional Housing Services Office

The Regional Housing Services Office Advisory Committee was formed as part of the intermunicipal agreement described above. The Committee is comprised of a designated representative from each participating community and one member from the service-providing community (Sudbury). The Committee meets monthly to provide oversight, discuss core service delivery and goals, and assist with overall decision making for the RHSO. The work of the RHSO involves many boards, committees and individuals in the participating communities, including the town managers and planning offices, the boards of selectmen, the housing partnerships/housing trusts/housing development entities, and most notably the current and future residents of the communities. The RHSO Advisory Committee is intended to provide a stable base of support and guidance for the work.

Berkshire Public Health Alliance (the Alliance)
A 2009 assessment of Berkshire County’s 32 local boards of health (BOHs) found significant service gaps as well as disparities among communities across the county. The assessment determined that 35 percent of the small towns assessed had no access to paid staff, with BOH members performing all required inspections. The local BOHs or part-time staff may not have had any training or certifications in areas they are regulating or may not have updated their training for years. Even if BOHs are aware of all their responsibilities, many small communities have a very limited BOH budget and inadequate fee structures, making a professional health department less feasible.

For these reasons, more than 20 Berkshire County communities came together to form the Alliance. An intermunicipal greement was used to allow the participating communities to share public health programs, services and staff. At the time of this writing, almost all of the towns have approved the IMA.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) in cooperation with Berkshire County Boards of Health Association (BCBOHA) facilitated the agreement process with funding from a District Incentive Planning Grant (DIG) through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

Website: http://bcboha.org/ 

Understand the Rules and Regulations

Cities and towns are responsible for providing services that are often defined by state and federal laws and regulations. Due to revenue loss and increased service responsibilities, some municipalities are currently unable to fulfill statutory responsibilities and, as a result, may at times provide only those services that are deemed most essential. Regionalization can be a solution for helping local departments meet the required responsibilities of performing critical duties and avoid municipal liability for problems arising from unmet responsibilities. However, any regional project must still allow an individual municipality to meet its statutory requirements.

During initial discussions, the project committee should have a clear understanding of the statutory responsibilities that govern the service to be shared. When reviewing the statutory responsibilities, participants should determine:

  • Which responsibilities are being fulfilled;
  • Which responsibilities are not being fulfilled;
  • Which responsibilities are being fulfilled but would benefit from additional capacity; and
  • Which responsibilities it excels at delivering; and
  • What capacity it has to expand its service territory.

It can be challenging to regionalize a service that is not being adequately provided by participating municipalities as municipal officials may not know or want to publicly acknowledge that the municipality is not meeting its statutory responsibility.

Know the Politics

Be ready to address “turf” issues by being aware of the history and politics of the communities involved in a shared service project. Intergovernmental cooperation by its very nature involves municipalities having to give up some control and responsibility. Consider which communities may “win or lose” if a particular regionalization effort is implemented. Learn the history of particular communities and research any past regionalization efforts. Speak to local official and department staff about their experiences in shared services projects. Keep up with local politics and municipal events. The effects of these dynamics on interlocal cooperation in Massachusetts cannot be overstated. More important, address these issues openly and early so they do not undermine the program as it is being planned and implemented. 

Locate Potential Sources of Funding

Cities and towns should seek opportunities to leverage existing resources with other sources of revenue. There is an increased interest by foundations, state governments, and the federal government in supporting projects that will reduce local costs and improve efficiency. Locating potential funding sources can help move the regionalization discussion from concept to reality. As discussed earlier, municipal officials should contact their regional planning agencies to learn more about financial resources such as District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) funding, the Community Innovative Challenge grant program and state 911 department funding.

Municipal officials should keep in mind that grant funding is limited and may help get a project off the ground but usually cannot sustain a project long term. Such leaders should consider other innovative ways to maintain the project, including user fees and utilizing any realized savings to fund the project.

Examples of Municipal Collaboration

Essex County Regional Dispatch Center
Amesbury, Beverly, Essex, Middleton, Topsfield and Wenham have committed to a regional dispatch center on land controlled by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department. Construction started in 2011, and it is slated to open in early 2013. The regional dispatch center is being modeled after the one in Berkshire County in that it will be hosted by the Seriff’s Department, and the dispatchers will be department employees.

Collaborative efforts such as this received significant support in the summer of 2008, when a new law created a State 911 Department and raised 911 surcharges, which enriched the revenue stream that can be used for dispatch-related grants. The project obtained $7 million in state grants, which will cover the cost of construction and the telecommunications equipment. Participating communities will be responsible only for operating costs.

Website: http://www.ecrecc.com/

Domestic Violence Civilian Advocate Program
The Amherst Police Department, UMass Amherst Police Department and the UMass Everywoman’s Rape Crisis Center established an intermunicipal greement to fund a shared domestic violence advocate position. Grant funding was instrumental in this process because it covered upfront training costs for the position, which made the new position an easier sell to the respective departments. [/blockquote]