Regionalization: It's a thing for area towns

Published on Friday, 10 January 2020 21:22
Written by BRIAN M. JOHNSON

@brianjohnsonBP

In the season of sharing, people learn quickly how a little help can go a long way. Local municipalities have known this for years, engaging in shared services to save their communities money.

“I feel that a regional approach is the future – especially with diminishing state and federal aid. So, the Council and I decided that we wanted to be pro-active with the issue, as opposed to having it be dictated to us,” Bristol Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said.

Bristol has been collaborating with Plainville for two years to provide both towns with building inspector services. She said that the partnership has served both communities well.

“Our staff are working to their full capacity, and are doing work in different communities, potentially seeing new things, and are not bored, which helps with employee retention, since there are so many certifications and training required of our inspectors,” said Zoppo-Sassu.

In Plymouth, the town is in the process of regionalizing its dispatch services after entering into an agreement with Torrington based Litchfield County Dispatch in November.

“Transition teams are meeting with police, fire and ambulance services so that when we pull the switch on this, we are all on the same page,” said Merchant. “This is a big step for the Town of Plymouth.”

Plymouth also has an agreement with Thomaston in regard to animal control. Plymouth animal control handles Thomaston’s calls and Plymouth uses Thomaston’s kennels.

Plymouth also works with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments to share services for hazardous waste removal.

“I almost look at a small community like the Mom and Pop stores that you don’t see as much anymore around the country,” said Merchant. “Everything has consolidated into bigger companies. Regionalization is the most important thing that we can do to help each other out. The school districts will have to do it as well at some point.”

Merchant said he has been exploring opportunities to regionalize since he first became mayor. He has spoken to the mayors of Bristol, Wolcott, Thomaston and “anyone else who will listen” about regionalization.

“When you’re in a business, you either increase sales, increase revenues or decrease expenses,” he said. “Running a town is the same way.”

Southington Town Manager Mark Sciota said regionalization and sharing of services is important.

“Not only does it increase communication between bordering municipalities, it also allows the towns to realize cost sharing and cost savings,” he said.

Plainville and Southington regionalized in 2011 to share Health District services.

“This regionalization of services allowed for increased services, decreased costs, and greater eligibility for grant and state funding,” said Sciota. “We also created a more efficient response to requests for service and emergencies when the district consolidated all employees into one agency. The Town of Middlefield joined the district on Jan. 1, 2019.”

Sciota added that Southington shares a Regional Emergency Response Team (ERT) with Bristol, Plainville and Plymouth, which includes shared vehicles and training.

Southington also has traffic duty assistance agreements with Bristol, Wolcott, Cheshire and Meriden.

Southington is part of the “Hartford Region Blue Plan”, which Sciota said provides mutual aid resources to Southington and area towns in emergency situations within an expedited time frame.

In Plainville, Town Manager Robert E. Lee said that town staff and schools are always “keeping their eyes open” for additional shared services opportunities.

“There are a lot of services that we provide where the public doesn’t care if it comes from our town or someone else as long as it gets done,” he said. “My perspective and the Town Council’s perspective is that we can do something more efficiently with another community than we could. If it saves money or provides better services, then it’s all the better.”

Lee, like Sciota, mentioned Plainville’s involvement in the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District, which he said that town has used to share health inspector services for the past seven or eight years.

Plainville, along with 12 other communities including New Britain and Bristol, collectively negotiate with Covanta for waste management.

“We have been negotiating collaboratively with them since the late 1980s and as a result we are only paying $65 a ton, which is one of the lowest rates in the state,” said Lee. “We were able to get fixed increases going forward.”

Additionally, Lee said that the local schools have saved money by agreeing to bring Hartford students into Plainville schools. As a result, Lee said, the state gives the town money which it uses to offset the costs of special education and computer technology.

“It also allowed us to have all-day kindergarten and preschool,” said Lee.

Plainville is part of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, which was able to provide residents with the opportunity to apply for recreation and building permits online and save the town money as well.

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, Plainville, Plymouth, Southington Herald on Friday, 10 January 2020 21:22. Updated: Friday, 10 January 2020 21:25.