From Town Hall: Shared services — it’s working in Wilton
The Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education have voluntarily worked together to share services, which have resulted in cost savings and cost avoidance for both. Identifying additional opportunities is always foremost in our minds. A list of examples of those shared services, ranging from a shared CFO to shared purchases, can be found at the end.
My administration is also working with other towns to share or regionalize services. We are finalizing a shared solar field installation with Weston. We are investigating shared options to address increasing recycling-related charges, needed public safety facilities and rising medical costs. We already participate in a regional workers’ compensation insurance plan and several regional public safety programs. Through our participation in the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG), we are receiving joint purchase discounts and are able to undertake studies of opportunities for further regionalization.
Our success with shared services, particularly those between the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education, has made Wilton a leader in the area. It is no wonder that the governor, in his budget proposal, would like to see more towns and school districts follow Wilton’s lead. Yet, unfortunately, the governor’s proposed implementer bills, SB 874 and HB 7192, take a much different approach than Wilton’s. Instead of allowing for local decision making by those who know the community best, they propose to do the decision making for us.
The governor imposes state-level decision making in two ways:
1.) By forming committees, a Commission on Shared School Services for the purposes of developing a plan for the redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts and a Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, which will also collect data, study and report, thus creating another layer between state government, WestCOG and the Town of Wilton.
2.) By requiring or coercing through financial penalties, specific shared services that the governor and his staff have determined to be in the best interest of Wilton and other municipalities.
The following are two examples of why I argue this is the wrong approach.
SB 874 has requirements as to when a school district must share a superintendent with another district. Non-compliance results in the loss of aid equal to the cost of the single superintendent. The requirements are: if the municipality has one or two elementary schools or has a population of less than 10,000 or an enrollment of less than 2,000. Perhaps the governor and his staff think only small districts have just one or two elementary schools, but we know better, as Wilton has only two elementary schools!
Years ago, Wilton understood it was inefficient to have the two separate side-by-side elementary schools, the Miller School and the Driscoll School. The town combined them into one school not only to reduce costs, but also to ensure equal outcomes. This bill now seeks to financially punish us for that cost-effective decision.
HB 7192 requires that WestCOG form a regional assessment division, which will serve Wilton and other communities including New Milford and Sherman, which are not similar to Wilton. This is being suggested even though a recent study commissioned by WestCOG and funded by the state, determined there weren’t worthwhile benefits to a regional assessor. I doubt very much that anyone on the governor’s staff knew about this study when drafting this bill.
Assessing one’s property value and thus significantly impacting what one pays in property taxes is a critical responsibility within the town. Last year, Wilton hired a very good assessor, about whom I have only received favorable comments. We should be the ones making the decision to maintain her services versus the state forcing us to either let her go or pay a financial penalty when we retain her.
Communities that won’t work collaboratively to reduce their costs should be incentivized to follow our lead and become more efficient. A community like Wilton, which is doing the right thing, should not be forced to adhere to a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that isn’t in our best interest.
Your voice matters at this critical time. Please join me in opposing these bills. SB 874 is being heard on March 1. A date has not yet been set for HB 7192.
Examples of shared services between the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education:
- Joint CFO.
- Joint Facilities Director.
- Police Department School Resource Officers.
- Town-provided pension administrative services for BOE employees not covered by the state teachers’ pension plan.
- Town finance staff, in lieu of consultants, currently assisting school personnel with financial software transitions.
- Town IS personnel, in lieu of consultants, assisted with the implementation of the school’s new phone system.
- Town-provided school nurses.
- Parks and Recreation-managed external school sports fields and facilities.
- Solar installations.
- Shared property and liability insurance.
- Shared medical claims administration.
- Shared fuel purchasing.
- Shared electricity agreements.