PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Lt. Governor Daniel J. McKee and the co-chairmen of the Joint Municipal Shared Services Study Commission have announced legislation that takes another step toward the goal of helping cities and towns address growing costs through the sharing of services.
While there are existing statutes that allow cities and towns to share resources, this bill clarifies that cities, towns, fire districts, school districts and other taxing authorities are permitted to enter into agreements to provide shared services, activities and facilities which any governmental unit is authorized by law to perform. The legislation also provides a governance model to facilitate such agreements.
The Lieutenant Governor, under an executive order signed by Governor Gina M. Raimondo in February, is leading an effort to help municipalities develop best practices for the sharing of services.
"This legislation is designed to provide a pathway for cities and towns to enter into agreements to share services, where they decide it makes sense," said McKee, who served 12 years as mayor of Cumberland. "Many municipalities have already been partnering up on a small scale, but there's a great deal more savings on the table if we can broaden our efforts. We don't necessarily need 39 cities and towns doing everything by themselves."
The commission, which is co-chaired by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton) and Rep. Robert D. Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland), has been meeting since 2012 to study and recommend ways to achieve more economic, efficient and effective management of local resources.
Believing that sharing services would be the best way to take advantage of the state's small size and population, the commission was tasked with finding ways to pool resources and potentially save tax dollars.
"We've learned more and more over the past few years that there are savings to be had if communities are willing to team up instead of going it alone on services they provide," said Senator DiPalma. Representative Phillips added, "There's a lot of duplication of effort in the state, and with the financial hardships most cities and towns are facing, this bill is a good step to providing services more efficiently. Our commission identified some functions that we believe could be combined in the near future, and we believe there are many other areas where cities and towns could, with some effort, save taxpayers considerable money if they are willing to join forces with other communities."
The Joint Municipal Shared Services Commission last met on March 24 to hear testimony from the lieutenant governor; Lincoln Town Administrator Joseph Almond, who is president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns; and Mayors Donald R. Grebien of Pawtucket and Scott Avedisian of Warwick. As a result of the meeting, the legislation was introduced to facilitate voluntary agreements. Previously, the commission identified several areas of possible consolidation, including information technology, public safety dispatch services, tax collections and property assessment.
Many of the recommendations came from existing models, such as the cooperative IT arrangements between North Kingstown and Exeter, or the consolidating of tax collection and assessment functions within certain cities and towns. Other recommendations came from models in other states, such as Tennessee, where business taxes were shifted from local collections to the state's tax collection system.
At the most recent commission meeting, Representative Phillips proposed surveying municipalities to find out what services they would be most likely to share with other communities. The Lieutenant Governor's office has sent the survey to each city and town, asking for the top three service areas where they see the most opportunity for collaboration.
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