What Resources are Available?

Technical Assistance

Regional Planning Agencies (RPAs)

The Commonwealth’s thirteen RPAs are an invaluable resource of information, often acting as providers of technical assistance and host agencies for member municipalities. As the authors of this guidebook and the creators of the accompanying website, each RPA’s staff is well-suited with both the substantive knowledge regarding individual municipal services as well as information related to regional collaboration and shared service projects. Regional planning agency staff includes experts in a broad range of municipal services, including transportation, public health, energy, procurement, public safety, land use, housing, environmental affairs, public works and emergency preparedness.

Among other services, regional planning agencies provide member communities with technical assistance for shared service projects in the following areas: identification of grant opportunities and grant writing, project identification and management, drafting legal documents, and creating governance models and assessment comparisons. Moreover, some RPAs act as host agencies for member municipalities and employ staff with the qualifications to perform certain municipal services for a fee. Local leaders interested in learning more about sharing services should contact their relevant regional planning agency for more information.

MA Department of Revenue (DOR) Division of Local Services (DLS) and the Annual Regionalization Conference

The Commonwealth’s Division of Local Services (DLS) is another resource for Massachusetts cities and towns, providing advice, support and community specific management reviews and audits, among other services. In addition, since 2009, DLS has partnered with the Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) to host a statewide Regionalization Toolkit Conference every September. The conference provides participants with the opportunity to hear presentations on current municipal collaborations, as well as attend working sessions for communities interested in sharing services.  Visit the DLS at http://www.mass.gov/dor/local-officials/ for more information.

University of Massachusetts-Boston, Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management

The Collins Center is active in regionalization and performance management issues.  The Center has developed a comprehensive set of services to increase the productivity, performance and accountability of government.  Services include performance management system development, technical assistance and consulting, charter reform assistance, and regionalization and collective activities facilitation.

Annual Regionalization Toolkit Conference

Since 2009 DLS has partnered with the MARPA and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) to host a statewide Regionalization Toolkit Conference every September.  The conference provides information about successful regionalization efforts in Massachusetts and has proven to be an excellent opportunity for sharing information and peer-to-peer networking.

Grant Funding

Local leaders often cite start-up and implementation costs as a barrier to sharing services, even though a project may save revenue and increase efficiencies over the long term. This is particularly true with the consolidation of those services such as emergency dispatch or fire departments that may require the construction of a new building or the purchase of new, modern equipment. In some cases, two or more communities may be seriously interested in collaboration but funding for a shared service agreement would not be available for a few months due to the municipal budget cycle. At other times, municipal leaders need to prove to stakeholders such as the board of selectmen, city council and residents that regionalization is a good option; thus, these leaders are interested in participating in a feasibility study or a pilot program. In all of these situations, municipalities need access to funding to help initiate or implement a new project. Fortunately, there are currently several sources of funding available to help communities in Massachusetts.

District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA)

District Local Technical Assistance is funding provided by the Commonwealth through the state budget for distribution among the 13 regional planning agencies for the purpose of providing technical assistance to member communities.  To date, the Legislature has appropriated $2 million per year in DLTA funding. The RPAs use DLTA to provide member cities and towns with technical assistance in two key areas: 1) sustainable development and preservation, and 2) regional collaboration in service delivery or procurement. In the past, this funding has been essential to assist cities and towns in sharing services as diverse as public health, fire safety, emergency dispatch, special education, emergency medical services, and disaster planning. DLTA provides communities with much needed funding to conduct feasibility studies, create implementation plans, and even implement certain projects. Depending on where in the process a community may be, DLTA can provide some assistance. Moreover, DLTA-funded feasibility studies and pilot programs are often eligible for other sources of grant funding. Local officials interested in learning more about DLTA funding should contact their regional planning agency for more information.

Community Innovation Challenge Grants

In 2011, Governor Patrick and the Legislature created the Community Innovation Challenge (CIC) grant program, a competitive grant program that provided cities and towns, as well as other entities such as regional school districts and regional planning agencies, with funding to help facilitate and implement shared service protects throughout the Commonwealth. The CIC program was administered through the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and provided grants to 28 recipients in its first year of existence. The program was designed to assist communities with “politically shovel-ready” projects and was not geared towards funding feasibility studies. Thus, municipal leaders who were ready with eligible shared services project ideas were encouraged to consider applying for this source of funding and to contact their regional planning agency for more information.  See http://www.mass.gov/anf/budget-taxes-and-procurement/community-innovation-challenge-grant/ for more information.

State 911 Department Grants

The State 911 Department was created in 2008 by legislation that also included two important provisions related to regionalization: 1) a single surcharge to be assessed on wireline, wireless, and other users, and 2) a series of grants funded by the new surcharge intended to promote the development of regional public safety answering points and regional emergency communications centers. The State 911 Department grants are provided specifically to assist communities with an interest in regionalizing emergency dispatch services and can be used to support the study of, planning for, development, startup and expansion of regional public safety answering points (PSAPs) and regional emergency communication centers. Municipal officials interested in this funding source should contact the State 911 Department directly or a regional planning agency for more information.

Miscellaneous Grant Opportunities

There may also be one-time funding opportunities available to communities interested in collaboration and sharing services. For example, in 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) established the Public Health District Incentive Grant Program. The purpose of the program was to provide funding for municipalities interested in entering into formal, long-term agreements to share resources and coordinate public health activities. Grants were issued in two rounds – eleven grants were distributed for planning and five of those original eleven recipients later received grants for implementation. The program was a one-time opportunity that was funded under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, or national “health care reform,” as part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “National Public Health Improvement Initiative” (NPHII).

In the future, other similar opportunities may be available. Municipal leaders interested in such opportunities should maintain regular contact with their regional planning agencies as these entities are often aware of new grants and able to provide technical assistance.

Municipal Budgets

Despite the availability of these resources, municipal leaders must be prepared to allocate municipal revenues toward shared services projects. Successful projects rely on a strong financial and political commitment from participating communities. Moreover, in order to produce measurable and sustainable results, a regionalization project must remain a top priority for a community. Local leaders should consider these projects a worthy investment that will have long-term benefits for their residents and strive to keep their communities involved in collaboration and cooperation efforts despite the initial cost. Ultimately, a municipality with the desire and will to find innovative solutions can make a difference in the success of any project.