For the past few years, cities looking to cut budgets have been struggling with to maintain the level of services residents expect.
For Brainerd and Baxter, that led to the signing of a service sharing agreement in July that would allow the cities to share staff and expertise as needed. The idea behind the agreement was in light of layoffs in both cities, there was a need to stay functional in case of sickness or vacation time by employees.
That agreement has been utilized the past few weeks as Brainerd building official Tim Caughey, who has done building inspections in Baxter when that city’s building official, Bob Baumann, was on vacation.
Baumann has been Baxter’s only building inspector since June, when the Baxter City Council eliminated the city’s other building inspector position.
“The agreement with Brainerd has allowed us to have no delay or disruption or services despite having gone down to single person for handling building permits and inspections,” Baxter City Administrator Gordon Heitke said.
“The public really shouldn’t have to receive any disruption or delay in services and this agreement allows for no delays.”
Caughey said the idea of service sharing has been discussed for a while but took off after Baxter’s building inspector was laid off. Caughey said he and Baumann met to discuss how inspections would be handled when one of them is requested to go to the other city.
Caughey has assisted Baxter three times since the signing of the agreement, he said.
“It’s worked well for being relatively new,” Caughey said. “I think it’s a great concept that allows us to efficiently utilize staff.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for the future. I think it’s a win-win situation.”
In addition to Caughey, Brainerd has two other building inspectors. Caughey said when he’s needed in Baxter the other Brainerd inspectors cover his duties. Sharing services is something that’s been done between departments in Brainerd for quite some time, Caughey said.
“We’re all trying to do more with less and this gives us an option to be even more efficient,” Caughey said. “It just makes good sense.”
The service sharing agreement is good for both cities, Brainerd City Administrator Dan Vogt said, but is not unique to just building inspections. One other area he and Heitke has discussed sharing services is in information technology staff.
Sharing services is not a new concept between the two cities.
Examples include Brainerd, Baxter and Nisswa sharing a criminal prosecutor; Brainerd and Baxter sharing in a Wastewater Treatment Facility and water connections; all county police departments sharing in Crow Wing County’s dispatching center; all departments providing mutual aid when needed and belonging to specialized policing units; and Baxter sharing in Brainerd’s fire protection.
“This is a good one and a way to do some more but there’s more of it going on than we often think about because we’ve been doing it for so long,” Vogt said. “It’s become such a standard practice that we hardly think about all the things we share.”
A Shared Services Committee, made up of representatives from Brainerd, Baxter, Crow Wing County, the Brainerd School District and Central Lakes College, meet regularly to explore opportunities for the sharing of services.
“Who knows, it could branch out to many other things we haven’t explored,” Vogt said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.