15 March 2011

Municipal cooperation a no-brainer

By Shanna Wiest

Who doesn’t think that it’s a good idea for multiple municipalities to work together to achieve cost savings, improved services, better efficiencies and better land use planning? Due to our multiplicity of municipalities in Pennsylvania (72 in York County alone!), it’s a concept frequently discussed and it seems to be a no-brainer that such cooperation is a good practice for York County. The York/Adams Regional Smart Growth Coalition advocates for it and YorkCounts made regional municipal land-use planning one of its 30 Ready Solutions.

There is, however, a perception in our community that our municipalities are not cooperating. I have heard time and again from citizens who either write letters to the editor or ask in casual conversation why municipalities are not working with one another and can’t they do more to save tax payer dollars.

As part of the Smart Growth Coalition’s advocacy efforts for regional planning, we held town hall discussions across York County with our elected municipal officials. One item that became very clear from all of our municipal representatives is municipalities are cooperating with one another in many ways that most taxpayers do not see. For every high-profile collaboration, like the merger between fire departments in Spring Garden and Springettsbury townships to create the York Area United Fire and Rescue, many go unnoticed. Here are some of the other success stories of municipal cooperation in our community:
  • Red Lion, Yoe and Dallastown Boroughs began the process of developing a tri-borough joint comprehensive plan in the spring of 2010.
  • Windsor Township and Windsor Borough have also recently completed a joint comprehensive plan.
  • Lower Windsor Township and Windsor Township’s highway department help each other out with road work in the summer. They both have small crews so when there is a big job they work with one another to save the costs of hiring additional employees.
  • Dover Township and Dover Borough have a joint comprehensive plan, bulk sale of water, cooperative street sweeping, joint recreational programming and joint paving and materials bidding with Dover Area School District.
  • Springettsbury Township is taking the lead this year on a large consortium of municipalities for line painting bids.
  • North Codorus Township, Jackson Township, Manheim Township, Penn Township and New Freedom Borough have a verbal agreement to share equipment and manpower. For example, Manheim Township owns a paver, North Codorus Township owns the trailer to pull the paver to different job sites.
The list has grown so much I had to place additional examples of municipal cooperation on our Web site. Is there more our municipalities can do?


But what was clear in the feedback I received from municipalities is they are always looking for new and creative ways to work with one another.

That’s where you come in. You need to be actively involved in your community by attending municipal meetings. Have an idea? Share it with your municipal officials. If we all work together and brainstorm new concepts we can have a win-win situation. While you sharing those thoughts, take the time to thank your municipalities for what they are already doing for the betterment of our communities.

And here's a video of York Area United Fire Chairman Bill Schenck talking about the merger.

YAUFR Chairman William Schenck as the Keynote Speaker from YAUFR on Vimeo.

Shanna Wiest is the government affairs director for the Realtors Association of York & Adams Counties and has been with the association since 2005. In her position, she advocates for homeownership, economic development and smart growth planning. Shanna also serves as the secretary/treasurer for the York/Adams Regional Smart Growth Coalition and the president elect of the Economics Club for the York County Chamber of Commerce. Shanna earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Dickinson College and her Master’s of Public Administration from Penn State University. Shanna lives in Springettsbury Township with her fiancé Joe.


Patrick Fero said...

It's good to point out cooperation but also for what it is and isn't. Too often municipalities band together to get a free comprehensive plan, then never meet again. Too often municipalities join then leave intermunicipal bodies for petty reasons. Local politics continues to be personality driven. Few cooperative agreements are concrete enough to survive the infighting within and between municipalities. Only voters can cure this. They can do so by insisting that those they vote for genuinely are interested in cooperation and actively pursue it.
Patrick Fero
Co-founder and past Chair of the
Southern York County Regional Planning Commission

Stephen Scanlon said...

What I think Shanna is trying to convey is that we are better together.

Municipal boundaries are administrative districts, originally designed at a scale to help things work. When these artificial lines hinder progress, there needs to be a flexibility to allow creative thinkers to lead.

Too often, we embrace lines for their power to divide. We fail to step back to consider that lines are drawn to address the realities of a time.

Boundaries - for good and for ill - have nurtured the differences that make for cultural differences. Lines become fixed by culture. When cultures reach across their bounds to collaborate, both boundaries and the need to adapt to a changed environment are honored. In other words, I'm okay, but sometimes I can be better with you.

Patrick Fero said...

Agree that we are talking about that warm and fuzzy process in which elected officials forget their biases and long-felt prejudices, compromise so that their taxpayers have to pay something to get something (or maybe just altruistically accept spending their money in another jurisdiction), give up (even metaphorically) some of their precious "power," and work for the good of the region even though they were elected to worry only about their municipality.
It even actually happens once in a while.
But, there is another step that needs to happen first if we want to see cooperation become the rule instead of the exception: We must erase many of the boundaries.
Unfortunately, that lasting solution lies in Harrisburg, and I'm not holding my breath.
Patrick Fero
Working the issue for 23 years and counting