Last year, three municipalities in San Diego County entered into a joint agreement for shared fire protection. The cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, and Lemon Grove, Calif., created a shared management team to coordinate fire and emergency medical services, firefighter training, fire prevention, emergency planning and community preparedness. By consolidating these essential services and sharing management functions, the cities expect to save a combined $560,000 annually.

During the current economic downturn, it is no surprise that those three California cities — as well as governments across the country — are looking to establish service partnerships, share costs and cooperate with one another to achieve improved operating results (IOR). Intergovernmental cooperation is an arrangement by which two or more government entities or agencies share or consolidate resources such as employees, equipment, buildings, revenue or other assets to achieve IOR. A familiar example is the practice of cooperative procurement to derive deeper discounts on goods and services, while at the same time reducing administrative expenses for participating agencies. But shared purchasing is just one way governments can cooperate to save time and money and achieve IOR. Let's look at some other examples.

By cooperating to provide joint emergency dispatch services, Lincoln Park, Southgate and Wyandotte, three cities in Wayne County, Mich., are combining their 911 dispatch services under the Downriver Central Dispatch. The decision to join services was made to cut costs and to improve essential services. Savings for the communities are estimated between 5 and 10 percent per city.

To reduce costs in a similar fashion, the Union County, N.J., Board of Chosen Freeholders recently announced that they intend to move forward to establish a shared public safety dispatch system between the County and the Borough of Fanwood. This shared arrangement will result in significant savings for Fanwood — almost $230,000 over its first three years. The shared dispatch system will cover all Fanwood emergency services including police, fire and emergency medical services. Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr recently stated, "I am proud that Fanwood is serving as the pilot for this new program, which saves real dollars and shrinks local government costs without compromising services."

More than 30 cities and other public agencies in King County, Wash., have taken advantage of interlocal agreements with the county's road service division. From routine maintenance to highly technical engineering, the King County Road Services Division offers a variety of services to other jurisdictions within the region. Individual agencies in and around the county are able to take advantage of the county's large inventory of equipment to reduce the expense for all participants.

School districts across the United States are also faced with shrinking budgets and staff cuts. Cooperation among school districts has been shown to reduce costs and ensure that necessary services can continue to be provided to students. Washtenaw County, Mich.'s 10 traditional school districts are currently working on a plan to combine the busing of students countywide by next fall. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District is leading the efforts and has hired two consulting firms to analyze the potential cost reductions. The goal is to generate savings for the districts ranging from 18 percent to 25 percent in their transportation budgets.

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About the author

Steve Hamill is the former assistant chief administrative officer for Alameda County, Calif. He is the general manager of the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance (U.S. Communities).