by Michael L. Starn, Editor
Maine municipalities have a long history of sharing in the cost and delivery of Service with each other. Mutual aid fire protection agreements have been in effect in many towns for as long as anyone can remember. More recently, cities and towns have joined to form solid waste districts or associations to better deal with this complex and costly problem.
But for municipalities, like for individuals, sharing is not something that comes naturally. Sharing involves common interests, mutual understanding and trust. Unless there is an overriding and clear benefit to sharing, most municipalities, like most people, will go it on their own.
One area where municipalities have been reluctant to enter into sharing (or interlocal) agreements is with personnel. The idea of sharing an employee has often been done as a last resort, instead of being considered first.
The Maine Interlocal Cooperation Act was enacted by the legislature in 1963. Since that time, a few municipalities have taken advantage of the Act, but many still have not. In 1975, MMA published a manual, Handbook for Interlocal Agreements, which is still available. While some parts of the manual require updating, most of the information contained in it remains accurate and useful.
The purpose of the Act is contained in 30-A MRSA § 2202, which states that municipalities are permitted:
“to make the most efficient use of their powers by [cooperating] with other municipalities on a basis of mutual advantage and thereby to provide Service and facilities in a manner and pursuant to forms of governmental organization that will accord best with geographic, economic, population and other factors influencing the needs and development of local communities.”
Sharing a CEO
In April 1988, the Kennebec County communities of Hallowell and Chelsea found that they had a mutual problem for which there was an interlocal solution.
Both communities needed a code enforcement officer, but neither could afford to pay for a full-time employee. The solution: hire a full-time code enforcement officer and share the Service and the cost.
With the help of a grant under Maine’s Coastal Program through the Department of Economic and Community Development, Hallowell and Chelsea entered into an interlocal agreement to hire a full-time code enforcement officer.
The person they hired was Patrick Gilbert, now city manager of Hallowell. “Things were very loose when I came on board,” said Gilbert. “When I arrived all the code enforcement records (for Hallowell) were in a box that I was given.”
In Chelsea, the situation was not any better. Town Manager Tyler Trott says, “we had a retired gentleman who would go out and investigate situations, but if there was a problem he would turn it over to me to follow up.” Among his many other responsibilities, Trott carried the title of code enforcement officer.
As the sharing agreement approaches its third year, both managers think so highly of the program they are looking for other areas where employees can be shared.
“I think it’s working fantastically,” says Trott. Gilbert says, “I haven’t ever heard anything negative about it in Hallowell.”
When the interlocal agreement was originally set up, a three-member Joint Board was established to hire, supervise, and to set the compensation for the shared code enforcement officer. The Joint Board was composed of the two managers of the communities and the executive director of the Southern Kennebec Regional Planning Commission.
The total budget for the CEO position, split between the two communities, is about $28,000. Hallowell pays about $16,000 and Chelsea contributes $12,000. After the state funding for the project ran out, the two towns renewed the interlocal agreement and the joint effort is now being supported in large part by fees collected by the CEO.
Andrew Hart took over after Gilbert was named city manager of Hallowell. Hart has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Maine. While not having any direct experience with building or plumbing inspections when he started a little over a year ago, Hart has already earned his Local Plumbing Inspectors (LPI) license, has been certified for Rule 80K, and is working on his CEO certification through DECD.
In addition to having two managers as his boss, Hart also staffs two planning boards and two boards of appeal.
In a typical week, the Hallowell/Chelsea code enforcement officer spends three days in Hallowell and two days in Chelsea. Both managers acknowledge that this schedule is not cast in stone.
“It (the schedule) can’t be real rigid,” says Gilbert or “it will undermine the relationship between the communities.”
As with practically all sharing arrangements, one town inevitably gets more than its share. “There’s never going to be an absolutely equitable split,” says Gilbert.
On the other hand, the sharing arrangement has some distinct cost advantages and provides an opportunity to improve the professionalism and quality of the municipal service. Neither Chelsea or Hallowell could justify having a full-time code enforcement officer on their own. With this interlocal agreement, the communities are also able to share the cost and benefits of the state-required training for code enforcement officers.
Trott cautions towns considering such an arrangement to make sure everything is ironed out in advance. The code enforcement officer needs to know what is expected of him, says Trott.
With the success of the joint CEO, both Hallowell and Chelsea are looking for other opportunities to share. Hallowell’s Gilbert is exploring with the Town of Manchester’s solid waste advisory committee the idea of hiring a joint solid waste manager for the two communities. Trott isn’t looking at anything specifically, but says, “I think it’s a great concept. I wish we could cooperate more.”
Sharing a Manager
In Aroostook County, there are three communities on the outskirts of Presque Isle that have shared a town manager for a number of years. The towns are Mapleton (pop. 1,837), Castle Hill (pop. 535) and Chapman (pop. 388).
Current Town Manager Duncan Beaton says he doesn’t know exactly when the first joint manager was hired but thinks it dates back into the late forties or early fifties. That first manager, he says, involved just the towns of Castle Hill and Mapleton. Chapman joined the others in the late sixties or early seventies, according to Beaton.
Beaton says the communities have a long history of working together. He points to the fact that to get to Presque Isle from west Chapman, you have to travel through Castle Hill and Mapleton. That road connection led to a highway agreement among the towns has worked well.
“We ought to be one town,” says Beaton. But, he recognizes that the towns want their own identity and for that reason he believes they will always remain separate.
The towns share practically all municipal services except for assessing (but even this may change). Most of the services are paid for by the town of Mapleton, with the other communities reimbursing for their share of the cost.
The three-town manager is kept quite busy staffing regular monthly selectmen’s meetings for each town and joint selectmen’s meetings that occur at least two or three times a year.
To prove you can’t get enough of a good thing, Town Manager Beaton is proposing to this year’s town meetings that the towns hire a joint assessor’s agent/code enforcement officer to be shared with the town of Washburn. If the town meetings approve, that person will work for two town managers, four boards of assessors, four planning boards, and four boards of appeal.
Beaton says the idea of sharing personnel is a good one. While he says the Mapleton/Chapman/Castle Hill relationship is “a unique one,” he still believes that sharing personnel offers “opportunities that some municipalities may be overlooking.”