Merging duplicate government services, a practice that's been frequently advocated in this space, may be soon be in vogue.
Officials representing two St. Paul suburbs, West St. Paul and South St. Paul, are discussing merging their fire departments in light of recent state cuts. Monday's St. Paul Pioneer Press reported the merger could save $500,000 a year or 13 percent of their current fire budgets. In one fire department option, six firefighting jobs could be cut, either through attrition or buy-outs. Additional savings would be realized by eliminating duplicate equipment on big ticket items such as ladder trucks.
Too often, there's a knee-jerk reaction against talk of shared or merged services because of civic pride or a fear that longtime cities will lose their distinctive identities. Entire city governments don't have to merge in order to benefit from the efficiencies of sharing some services.
Departments that have to use expensive equipment such as fire departments or street departments seem to be particularly well suited to this type of merger.
The cooperative St. Paul suburbs show that specific services can be merged without either city giving up its distinct character. And the task can be achieved in a variety of ways. South St. Paul and West St. Paul, haven't yet decided whether their merged fire departments (if they merge) will be governed by a joint powers agreement or by expansion of a mutual aid pact.
In the rapidly growing Brainerd lakes area the demand for public services is also growing quickly. Cities such as Brainerd, East Gull Lake, Baxter and Unorganized Territory of Crow Wing County should be actively communicating and brainstorming on ways they might deliver government services more efficiently.
If city council members start looking for ways to share services now, the process will be that much smoother should another severe round of state cuts come their way next year.
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