By Nicole Hennessy
How to save money. Every department within every government, no matter how large or small, ponders this.
Decrease the number of employees. Cut back on funding.
Collaborate with neighboring governments.
That last concept is by no means new, but in a tough economy constantly making things more difficult for cities, it’s an option worth considering.
Recently, Kent State University studied the effects of this, listing instances of collaborations throughout Ohio. Those in the Westshore area included
- Cleveland Heights and Lakewood sharing broadband service
- Westlake and Fairview Park sharing park planning responsibilities. Notably, Tri-City Park, which is shared by Westlake and Fairview Park as well as Rocky River.
- Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township sharing an economic district
- Olmsted Falls and Fairview Park sharing school bus maintenance
Tim Atkinson, director of business affairs for the Olmsted Falls school district, pointed out that it is more than just Fairview Park his district is involved with.
In terms of Fairview, for a number of years, the district had issues with being able to take care of and house its school buses. So, between the two school districts, a conversation began.
Atkinson can’t recall which city’s superintendent was the first to suggest the collaboration, but he remembers being involved very early on in the process. Basically, the two agreed on an arrangement similar to one that the Olmsted Falls school district has with other government entities, and since 2010, the partnership has been a success.
“We charge by the hour, only when we work on them,” Atkinson said of other districts’ buses. However, there is an administrative fee of about $1,200 a month. This arrangement means Fairview Park, a small city, doesn’t have to invest in a maintenance garage or the personnel required to run one.
“Personnel is typically one of your greater expenses,” he pointed out.
Similarly, in partnership with Lakewood, Olmsted Falls houses and maintains three buses. In addition, they schedule all of their field and athletic trips, having done these things for more than 20 years.
“The nice thing about the agreement is that it allows Lakewood to use our buses; so they technically have the three, but they have (our) 36 buses at their beck and call,” he said. “Of course, they pay for the use of those, but they don’t have to own ′em.”
A big supporter of intergovernmental collaboration, Atkinson admits he hasn’t seen a lot of it. It takes the commitment of a lot of parties in order for it to work, he explained.
“So we’re fortunate that we have that type of cooperation,” he continued. “It works for us and it works for them.”
Yet another arrangement is that with the cities of Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township.
“We fuel all their vehicles at our facility,” Atkinson said. “We’ve been doing that since the early ′90s.”
Also, all repair work for the Olmsted Falls fire department and service department are taken care of.
These arrangements really help “properly fund some of our mechanical employees, and give them a little extra money that they wouldn’t otherwise have as well as our secretarial staff,” Atkinson pointed out.
A great example of collaboration in which the school district participates is snow removal.
The district plows its driveways, and the city will come in and salt them.
“And they charge us just like we charge them to work on their vehicles, but it’s a nice arrangement because we don’t have to have another piece of equipment to do that,” Atkinson said.
“It’s a mutual relationship. We use them and they use us.”
Plus, in the process, people within different sectors of Olmsted Falls and surrounding cities get to know each other and build a relationship — a personal relationship.
As of now, Atkinson feels as if the district’s garage is working to its full capability.
“It doesn’t make good business sense for us to take on more if we have to look at hiring people to do that,” he said. “We’re just working within our capacity.”
What enables them to take on Fairview’s 12 buses is that twice a month, for the school year only, there are additional Saturday hours at the maintenance garage.
The study done at Kent State pointed out a few obstacles to collaborative progress, one of those being the initial expense that cities must bear to upgrade equipment or research the feasibility of collaborative endeavors.
On this topic, Atkinson remembers, “In 1992, we had to remove an old tank and put in a new one. There’s a huge regulation and it’s very costly to do that type of operation.”
While there is no avoiding the expense associated with that kind of project, the district tacked on a small fee for each gallon of gas pumped by its collaborators, so that down the road, when repairs become necessary, they had the money to help fund them.
When it comes down to it, governmental and organizational collaboration is an example of thinking outside the box. Also, “It’s a great benefit to the taxpayer,” Atkinson said.