More for their money: communities sharing services
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BELOIT With budgets stretched and demand for services increasing, local communities are starting to discover the benefits of working together. The city of Beloit has begun working with several local communities during the past few years, including the town of Beloit and the city of Janesville.
The Beloit City Council recently conducted a joint meeting with the Beloit Town Board, in which the members discussed establishing joint purchasing agreements, improving mutual aid agreements and establishing joint delivery services.
“The first meeting was kind of a get to know you between the town board and city council,” said Beloit City Manager Larry Arft. “Some of the people knew each other well and some didn’t, so I thought it was a great way to break the ice.”
Town of Beloit Administrator Brian Wilson said town board members were eager to meet with the city council.
“This is something that hasn’t been attempted in several years, at least,” Wilson said. “With the city having new officials on their council and us having new officials on our board, we felt it would be good to bring those bodies together and have a face-to-face meeting and open dialogue. I think there is an acknowledgement that we are a part of a greater community here, and when you’re that close to each other, you can’t really ignore each other.”
Wilson said having the two communities work together would allow the departments to provide better services to residents and would help reduce costs.
“If there’s ways we can provide service more efficiently and also save on cost, that’s the benefit,” Wilson said. “The old saying is ‘why reinvent the wheel.’ If we have something we’re doing well that we can share with the city of Beloit and vice versa, then it benefits us both.”
Arft said having communities work together also saves money for the taxpayers.
“Anything we can do to improve service delivery would be a direct benefit, and anything we can do to create an economy of scale, like joint purchasing, would be a direct benefit to all the taxpayers,” Arft said. “So, the more we can do in a collaborative way, the community would be better served.”
The police and fire departments have mutual aid agreements with other communities, in which they assist each other during emergency situations. Wilson said the two communities recently worked together after a heavy windstorm struck the area.
“We were one of a dozen departments that responded (to the city of Beloit), but we’re glad that we were close and able to do so...,” Wilson said. “In some degree, we already border on some of the services with them.”
The Beloit City Council and the Beloit Town Board are scheduled to conduct another joint meeting in November.
“Right now, we’re just at the early stages, and I think more of the meat of the discussion will be at the November meeting when we get back together with the two boards,” Wilson said.
Police departments for both communities also recently met to discuss ideas on how they could work together. Both departments talked about how they could share equipment and services and how they could offer collaborative training for the officers.
“We already cooperate together on crime investigations, but this was an offer to go a little bit further in sharing equipment and training,” city of Beloit Police Chief Norm Jacobs said.
Jacobs said having the two departments work together would allow the officers to become more familiar with each other.
“It benefits both departments, because there’s a mutual trust between each other, and the officers get to know each other,” Jacobs said. “Officers often work together at night, so this will allow them to get together and communicate.”
Town of Beloit Police Chief Steven Kopp said the city of Beloit Police Department offers use of its speed trailer when the town is dealing with any traffic concerns. The city of Beloit Police Department also offered to make its gang unit available for community presentations. Kopp said the Town of Beloit Police Department agreed to allow the city of Beloit police officers to use its station when they are on the north side of the community to write reports.
Kopp said both departments have had a long working relationship with each other.
“We agreed that we work well together, and we share a lot of information. The city police officers give us back up when we need it and vice versa,” Kopp said. “Chief Jacobs and I have known each other for about 25 years. We’ve worked together on a number of occasions. This was nothing new for us, but (the meeting) was all the department heads sitting down and talking with each other. We talked about shared services and cost-saving measures.”
The fire departments talked about improving their automatic and mutual aid agreements, which would help improve response time in both communities.
“Some of the areas are closer to the city of Beloit Fire Department, and some of the areas are closer to the Town of Beloit Fire Department,” Town of Beloit Fire Chief Dennis Ahrens said. “So, we talked about how we could improve those agreements for responses.”