By Freeholder Thomas Arnone, Monmouth County
The shared services initiatives spearheaded by Monmouth County government have been extremely successful. Under often difficult circumstances, the county has provided key services and recorded very significant cost savings to local partners.
It is estimated the county has saved municipalities millions of dollars through successful sharing of 911 dispatch, public works assistance, Planning Board, cooperative purchasing, information technology and digital records management, among others.
For example, one municipality publicly reported an estimated savings of more than $600,000 per year by participating in the county shared services dispatch program conducted through the Sheriff’s Office. I am pleased to report Neptune Township recently joined the county’s shared services dispatch program, which will save local taxpayers $1 million over the life of the agreement and generate $1.8 million in revenue for the county over the same period, helping to offset expenses and hold the line on taxes.
Monmouth County shares services with all 53 municipalities in an effort to reduce local costs through strong community partnerships. The success of the initial program has allowed for expansion into additional partnerships with police departments, fire departments, first aid squads, authorities, commissions and public schools and institutions of higher learning.
Recently, I instructed our shared services staff to perform a Web-based survey of municipal partners that will serve as a catalyst to an expanded shared services program. This comprehensive survey, which is being conducted now, will help solidify the focus of the program going forward. Based upon the survey responses, the county will continue to streamline and improve its outreach, education and implementation methods to best serve the needs of the community.
The initial response from the survey has been overwhelmingly positive in favor of increasing shared services and expanding the county outreach program. For example, initial responses indicate 100 percent of respondents would consider increasing their use of shared services if the county provided the service at a cost that is less than they currently pay, allowing them to deliver quality services to their constituents at a reduced cost.
Ninety percent of respondents who have used Monmouth County’s shared services stated they are extremely likely or very likely to use the services again in the near future. Nearly 52 percent of respondents stated they first learned of shared services from a Monmouth County shared services representative, from the county shared services Web site or by attending a county shared services seminar or educational outreach event.
Further initial responses showed 100 percent have considered implementing shared services in their own town in an effort to reduce costs. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they would benefit from access to a centralized county Web-based database and interactive posting site and 96 percent said they would have strong interest in attending county sponsored shared services seminars and speaker series.
A large majority indicated a “user fee” was the most attractive way for their organization to pay for shared services, solidifying the county model of covering costs, providing quality services and generating revenues.
Under my leadership, Monmouth County shared services will continue to offer top-quality services to its local partners. Due to economies of scale, the county’s fee-based business model often will provide these services for less than what it would cost a town or school district to do the work themselves, or what it would cost an outside provider to do it, therefore saving taxpayers money.
In addition, the county will be able to offset its costs by pursuing increased revenue opportunities through the newly developing fee-based system. In today’s economic climate, shared services have ceased to be an option and have indeed become a necessity if governments are to deliver top quality services to constituents at more affordable costs.
The new two percent cap and rising institutional costs such as health care and pensions will make the upcoming budget year perhaps the most difficult ever. With true leadership and courage we must continue to tackle these difficult issues head on.
I will not be deterred by the criticism of those who seek self service over progress. Together, we must seize this moment in history to continue to expand shared services if we are to reduce the heavy tax burden on New Jersey citizens and preserve the high quality of life we all have come to enjoy in Monmouth County.