By Gregory T. Federspiel
A public forum is scheduled for Thursday, January 31 at the Essex Town Hall as a formal kick-off to the Essex and Manchester Shared Services Study. The forum will begin at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend to hear more about the study and to share ideas on how the two communities might collaborate more in the delivery of various municipal services.
At last year’s annual Town Meeting, Manchester voters asked that the Selectmen pursue opportunities for shared services with our neighboring communities. The goal is to seek more efficient ways to deliver town services without compromising quality and/or enhance the services we deliver with little or no additional costs. Conversations with our neighbors from Essex during the fall has led to this new study.
The two towns, with Essex acting as the lead community, applied for and received a $25,000 grant through the state’s Community Compact program to help us identify shared service opportunities. The Selectmen from both communities agreed to hire consultants from UMass/Boston’s Collins Center who have conducted similar studies for other towns and cities. The consultants will help us review our current operations to see where sharing services might be fruitful. The study is expected to take six months to complete. However, we are hoping to identify early on one or two relatively easy measures we can report on at the Annual Town Meeting in April.
What might be possible? There is a wide range of options to explore from “back office” administrative duties to more front line services. As small communities, both towns have staff that must take on multiple duties. It might make sense to have a few staff develop more of a specialized focus and provide that service to both communities. If so, while we would not see any immediate savings in cost, we could enhance the work being done in that one area for both towns without expending more money.
One example revolves around the new requirements to have public entities in Massachusetts comply with OSHA regulations. Rather than developing this expertise in both towns, it might be possible for one town to contract with the other for this expertise.
Another example might be joining forces in common procurement needs. Might we be able to command better pricing by pooling our purchasing? Along these lines, Town Clerk Christina St. Pierre is pursuing a shared arrangement for electronic voting devises with a number of towns.
There are many other possibilities. Your ideas are welcome. If you cannot attend the forum on the 3t feel free to send in your suggestions to Town Hall. We would love to have your input.