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Pawtucket’s School Department and City Hall will be launching an experiment next month: They’ll begin sharing the services of a single IT department.
“There will be some savings, about $17,000,” said David Clemente, the city’s purchasing agent. “But it’s more about working more efficiently with our current budget. We’ll go from having one technician for the city and one for the schools, to having four. We did it by eliminating two management positions on the city side.”
“It’s a win for the taxpayers, because they’ll be getting a bigger bang for the buck, and it’s a win for the end users, who’ll be getting better services,” added Hersh Cristino, the department’s technology director. “I think we’re going to prove that this kind of cooperation works. I think this will be a model for other municipalities.”
For decades now, civic leaders throughout Rhode Island have mulled the idea of sharing municipal services with other government agencies, perhaps the state, or other cities, or school departments. The prediction has always been that such cooperation would result in more efficient use of tax dollars.
Up to this point, however, no one has been able to predict how much money could be saved, because very little sharing has been done in the Ocean State.
That could soon be changing. With Central Falls still recovering from bankruptcy, and other communities in the state facing dire straits, leaders in a number of cities and towns are discussing the sharing concept. And with that in mind, the Rhode Island watchdog group Operation Clean Government will be holding a public forum on the topic of “Shared Municipal Services in Action.” The event is scheduled for June 27, at 6:30 p.m., in the Smithfield Senior Center.
“The cost and demand for local services is growing, not diminishing, so some neighboring communities are looking at each other as partners,” explained Margaret Kane, president of Operation Clean Government. “We need to seek solutions that address shrinking public funds while maintaining the public-service needs of our communities.”
One shared-services advocate is John Simmons, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. Simmons, scheduled to speak at the forum, sees cooperation as a way to make government work better. “It’s not just about savings,” he said. “You could save money by simply reducing service levels. The real goal is to become more effective and more efficient.”
Simmons notes the consolidated IT department in Pawtucket is just one sharing proposal Rhode Island leaders have considered in recent months. The state police are now talking with police departments in a dozen communities about sharing dispatching services. And the cities of Central Falls, East Providence and Pawtucket have teamed up to solicit bids for trash collection.