County officials across the county are always eager to share new ideas of how to run local governments effectively. Today, county governments are taking the sentiment a step further by looking to share services and programs with other local jurisdictions to improve efficiency and possibly cut costs in the long run.
In South Carolina, Anderson County and the city of Anderson are considering soliciting experts to advise them on how they could further collaborate on providing services to residents. The county and city already work together to consolidate tax bills for residents with the funds divided by jurisdictions later — and to provide sewer services to residents outside of the city. Some areas discussed as possible services for consolidation include animal control, inspection and permitting services, and law enforcement services.
Peoria County and the city of Peoria in Illinois created the Peoria Metro Committee to explore ways the county and the city could share services. Both county and city elected officials have supported creating a culture of collaboration. The committee is also considering approaching the local school board and park district as a part of the discussion. As a part of this effort, the Peoria Area Shared Services Forward citizen’s group has provided recommendations on ways that services could be streamlined. Eliminating county elected positions and consolidating IT departments are just a few of the ideas proposed for study.
Although some major changes are being studied and reviewed, many smaller changes are close to approval by both jurisdictions. For example, employees of both the city and county are allowed to use both city and county fuel pumps, which avoids unnecessary driving when a fuel pump is nearby and allows county vehicles to use the city’s E85 fuel pump. The county’s use of employees for smaller Public Works projects and adding the limited number of bridge inspections previously done by the city to its workload are other suggested ways to collaborate to serve residents more efficiently.
Stark County, Ohio has proposed applying for a grant for a feasibility study for consolidating IT departments with five other counties and the city of Parma. The other counties considering the proposal include Cuyahoga, Trumbull, Medina, Erie and Lorain. The grant for the feasibility study is funded through the Ohio Department of Local Government Innovation Fund. It was created by the state to encourage local governments to analyze and implement new ideas for improving service delivery to residents. Up to $100,000 could be awarded to support the study if the proposal is selected.
In Warren County, N.Y., the public defender’s office is proposing sharing resources with area counties when conflicts preclude the county’s lawyers from participating in the case. When a conflict exists, the counties may have to hire outside private lawyers to serve as the defense attorney in a case. This could cost the county thousands of dollars in legal fees with nearly $700,000 budgeted for the current year.
Instead, the agreement would allow public defenders in other jurisdictions to fill in when a conflict arises. The inter-local agreement would cover legal issues such as insurance and outline any payment of additional costs including travel. A similar arrangement exists in the area for prosecutors who have a conflict of interests in an assigned case.
In addition to consolidating specific services with other jurisdictions, counties are also looking to learn from the innovations of other counties. For example, Anoka County, Minn. created an innovative system to manage medical records for mental health services. When the state’s billing system could not include insurance information needed for these services, the county staff in the IT and Fiscal Services departments created an electronic application that was integrated with the state’s system. The system saved staff time and used in-house resources to create a solution. This electronic system is now being shared with other counties throughout Minnesota.