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Government entities in Minnesota have participated in collaborative efforts in one manner or another for many years, but the recent economic downturn has underscored the need to collaborate. A flourishing economy prior to the downturn may have prompted these entities to think mostly “inside the box” or within their borders, and communication with neighboring jurisdictions faded.
Through collaborative efforts, governmental units can realize mutual benefits and remove barriers, resulting in cooperative compromise. Many communities have formed collaborative partnerships for the purchase of supplies, sharing staff, grouping benefits, facilities, public safety, maintenance operations, and equipment, as well as pooling resources for infrastructure systems.
The collaborative trend is bridging broader relationships than city to city or county to county. Sharing resources among cities with school districts, townships, counties, watersheds, and state agencies has brought about sharing of services, reduction in operating costs, and efficiencies in providing services to the public. In 2003, the LMC surveyed several metropolitan and outstate cities on collaborative efforts for the 2004 State of the Cities Report. In general, the survey found that over 50 percent of metropolitan cities and over 40 percent of outstate cities participated in collaborative efforts for public safety (police and fire), parks and recreation, street maintenance, economic development, sanitation, and general government.
How do cities establish collaborative efforts with other jurisdictions? Although each city is unique, identifying services that demonstrate benefit across borders or jurisdiction is a good place to start. One of the larger elements of a city’s budget is police and fire protection. Because of the cost of equipment, facilities, and staff, it is relatively easy to demonstrate the benefit of a collaborative approach in this area.
Establishing a board or district to manage services, and funding with representation of members from each participating city is often a good idea. A joint powers agreement (JPA) is important to identify the responsibilities of each city. Establishment of a JPA can be time-consuming, but it is an important document that represents each city’s interest. When establishing a JPA, it’s important to have your attorney and insurance representative review the agreement. You’ll want to make sure the appropriate liability coverage is in place before the agreement is executed.
Some communities have also taken a less formal approach to collaboration efforts, reducing the need for complicated JPAs. Informal approaches seem to work well with intercommunity services such as building inspection, planning, National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)/Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit programming, and public works. Sharing of staff and equipment for administration of building inspection services, city planning review of land use applications, combining efforts on MS4 permitting and sharing equipment, or equipment with staff operators is becoming a frequent trend among cities.
Most cities participating in collaborative efforts find that communication and a willingness to compromise in joint efforts result in benefits to the communities engaged.