After years of talking about the need for more cooperation and consolidation of local government services, progress toward actual cooperation and consolidation is frustratingly slow.
Earlier this month, the governor announced that 14 projects had been selected to receive state funds to support regional service delivery. Nine of the projects involved studying the possibility of coordinated efforts. If communities are serious about reducing costs and improving services, the time for studying the problem is over.
Local government agencies will argue that every situation is different, but is consolidating dispatch services in Cumberland County that much different from doing the same in Penobscot County? Would a shared recycling facility in Augusta be that different from one in Skowhegan?
The state agency charged with promoting cooperation might start by encouraging government entities to share their studies. This could help avoid unnecessary duplication and communities could learn from one another’s successes and failures.
Last year, as part of LD 1 the Legislature created the Fund for the Efficient Delivery of Local and Regional Services to encourage regional cooperation as a way to reduce property taxes. Each year, the fund is to award $500,000 to projects through a competitive grant program. Grants were awarded to 26 projects last year.
This year’s largest recipient is the Lewiston-Auburn Service Consolidation Program, which received nearly $153,000 to consolidate many of the neighboring cities’ municipal services including code enforcement, planning, public works, police and fire.
This project, the most ambitious to date, should be used by the fund as an example for other communities to emulate without first having to study whether it is possible for cities to combine services.
Lewiston and Auburn have more than a 100 years of history of working together, according to Lucien Gosselin, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. In the 1840s the cities had a joint fire service. More than a century and a half later, they’re returning to that model. When there is a fire in one of the cities, which are separated by the Androscoggin River, a unit from the closest station responds, no matter what jurisdiction it falls under. Each city used to operate two aerial trucks. Now they share one, with another as backup.
The cities have saved millions, according to Mr. Gosselin.
As he notes, this cooperation is not rocket science and is easily replicable. If other cities want to visit or want Lewiston-Auburn officials to come to their city, Mr. Gosselin said they’d happily share what they have learned.
Communities should take advantage of that offer.