For State Sen. Lou DiPalma, shared services have been a priority since he served on the Middletown Town Council in 2006. Now at the state level, he has formed the Senate Commission on Municipal Shared Services to continue to work towards that vision.
“It is important to remain objective, so every recommendation must be backed by facts,” said the Senator. The commission’s objective is to provide the infrastructure and capital investment to incentivize cities and towns to gain greater efficiencies.
“The eventual result is lower property taxes,” he explained.
Back in 2006, he requested the town explore eight areas: purchasing, recreation, technology, grounds maintenance, finance, facilities management, human resources and the motor pool. Since then he has narrowed the focus to four areas: consolidation of dispatch services, tax collections, tax assessments and technology.
With difficult budget pressures, shared services may appear to be a common sense solution, but DiPalma said the difficulty is that no town wants to lose control.
“It came down to disagreements of what we would call the football team,” said Town Council President Art Weber about the controversial school district regionalization conversations that took place this summer and have since faded.
Weber also said that because of the pressure to teach to test scores, Portsmouth, which has higher test scores than Middletown, does not have an incentive to combine districts.
DiPalma said the Commission’s recommendations would provide the tools necessary to share investments, but it would not combine townships. He said that while Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth could share the dispatch equipment, training and technology, they would still be their own departments.
Through the system of Mutual-Aid, the fire departments already share staff and services for major events.
“No urban community, in today's environment of high-rise structures, sprawling industrial and shopping complexes, and expanding array of hazardous materials, with the continuing problems of urban revitalization, can afford the complete resources in equipment and personnel for complete self-protection,” reads the Mutual-Aid Guide.
DiPalma said the goal is about gaining efficiencies, not about removing jobs. If the state can provide the technology to allow taxpayers to pay online, the towns can focus on the higher-level tasks such as collecting from non-payers, he said.
With the exception of Newport, the state is responsible for local sales and food tax collections, so to add property tax collections would make sense from a process perspective, he said.
The commission will hold its first meeting in April.