State Officials

While not directly involved in the formation and implementation of regionalizing municipal services, federal and state officials play a key role in ensuring that regionalization is promoted and occurs. Both elected and administrative officials may need to provide legislative and regulation authority to regionalize services. They also encourage municipalities to submit regional applications for funding and technical assistance and reward those communities that do.

Financial and technical resources are essential for advancing regionalization. In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth’s District LocalTechnical Assistance (DLTA) Program has been the major funding available to support the development of feasibility studies and evaluation of regionalizing services. This funding provided to regional planning agencies by the Commonwealth also allows the communities to use this assistance to submit competitive and comprehensive regional and innovative applications for Community Challenge and Innovation Grants.

Legislative Authority

Intermunicipal Agreements & Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40, Section 4A

Intermunicipal agreements are governed by Chapter 40, Section 4A of the Massachusetts General Laws, or the “IMA law.” According to Chapter 40, Section 4A, the chief executive officer of a city or town “may, on behalf of the unit, enter into an agreement with another governmental unit to perform jointly or for that unit’s services, activities or undertakings which any of the contracting units is authorized by law to perform.” In other words, two or more municipalities may jointly do anything that a single municipality is authorized by law to do on its own. Under the IMA law, the agreement must be approved by the city council and mayor, in a city, and the board of selectmen, in a town. The law also sets forth some guidelines for municipal leaders using such agreements – for example, an intermunicipal agreement may only be executed for a term of twenty-five years and certain financial reporting and auditing provisions must be included in the final agreement. However, the law does not address labor or union concerns and provides limited guidance related to insurance and indemnification issues. Local leaders must consider these concerns prior to executing such an agreement and should seek legal counsel for assistance in drafting and reviewing the agreement.

Intermunicipal agreements are the most commonly used form of contracts in regionalization projects and are often used to create mutual aid agreements, shared service agreements and agreements between municipalities and host agencies.

The Joint Powers Act 

Many states across the country have passed a joint powers act, legislation that allows two or more units of local government to jointly perform municipal services through the creation of a new regional entity. The breadth of authority granted in such statutes varies from state to state; however, all such laws allow municipalities to regionalize local services through the establishment of a new entity with the power to sue and be sued, make and execute contracts, receive and expend funds, and any other powers necessary to carry out its powers as an independent entity of government.

The Massachusetts intermunicipal agreement law does not contain specific language allowing units of local government to form new entities for the purpose of jointly providing goods or services. For this reason, many local and regional officials, as well as municipal attorneys, believe that the Massachusetts Legislature should pass a joint powers act to make it clear that cities and towns have the authority to fully consolidate any municipal service.

Special Legislation

As discussed above, municipal officials may also draft and seek approval of special legislation allowing for the creation of new regional entities. Such legislation must be introduced by a state legislator and passed by the Massachusetts Legislature.  An example of such legislation is included in the Appendix.

Special Districts and the Massachusetts General Laws

The Massachusetts General Laws also contain several statutes that authorize the creation of certain regional districts. As discussed above, these laws often require multiple layers of approval and the loss of some local control. A complete list of those statutes can be found in the Appendix.

Financial and Technical Assistance

Regional Planning Agencies

The Commonwealth’s 13 thirteen regional planning agencies 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, the RPA 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.

Division of Local Services 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.

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. Since 2006, 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 $4 million competitive grant program that will provide 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 is administered through the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and provided grants to 28 recipients in its first year of existence. The program is designed to assist communities with “politically shovel-ready” projects and is not geared towards funding feasibility studies. Thus, municipal leaders who are ready with eligible shared services project ideas should consider applying for this source of funding and may contact their regional planning agency 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 produce long-term benefits.