Friday, November 5, 2010
Board of Health to explore regional opportunities, Recreation Commission, not now
Is regionalization the answer to controlling the rising costs of town government? At a meeting Wednesday, October 27, the Special Committee on Regionalization Opportunities heard reports from the Recreation Commission (RecCom) and Board of Health (BOH) that questioned whether functions could be outsourced while retaining high levels of service. After discussion, the committee decided to abandon RecCom regionalization for the time being, but pursue BOH outsourcing a step further. Other areas of town government will also be scrutinized, including dispatch, financial operations and building inspections.
After the committee elected Dave Model as chair, Town Administrator Tim Goddard presented a memo from the Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC) to “inventory and assess municipal services in MAGIC member communities and highlight opportunities where these services could be improved through collaboration with nearby towns.” The report indicated that Carlisle already takes advantage of most available established opportunities for sharing services (see table, page 6).
Concord-Carlisle RecCom a no-go
As reported in the Mosquito last week, Rick Amodei of the RecCom had met with Concord representatives and concluded there were no regionalization opportunities with that town’s recreation department. “The upshot is, there’s nothing in it for them. They felt it would be a distraction” from their own program.
Because Concord Recreation is at full capacity administratively, it would have to hire a Carlisle assistant director, so the cost savings would be few. Adult programs would be lost because Concord Rec is restricted to programming for children. The summer camp in Carlisle “would go away. They have their own.” Combining field maintenance would not be cost-effective because, “We have the best deal in Carlisle at $250 to have all the fields done,” said Amodei, pointing to the hometown discount offered by Dan Moseley.
He concluded that if Carlisle wants to keep its recreational programs, “It doesn’t get done with Concord.” The only option that would save real money would be to eliminate the Carlisle RecCom, and then, “Concord might pick up a few (programs), but I don’t see them taking on a Carlisle site.” Other towns could be approached, but “there’s a synergy between Concord and Carlisle” that would not carry over.
Chair Dave Model said, “I don’t see any savings.” He noted recreation is only $100,000 of a $23 million budget, and the pain of regionalization would not be worth it. “If it were $100,000 [saved] my eyes would be open, but it’s more like $20,000,” he concluded.
Outside opportunity possible
Selectman Chair John Williams reported on a visit with Lincoln Town Manager Tim Higgins. Lincoln shares health services with Concord and is a town of similar size to Carlisle “where the expectation of service is very high,” said Williams. Higgins was generally happy with the pact with Concord because it saved money and allowed the town to access high-level resources. On the downside, there are sometimes delays in getting an engineer on site.
BOH member Bill Risso had come prepared with a list of duties of the Carlisle BOH agent. He noted joining with Concord would not be likely now because that town has lost a BOH staffer. A Mass Health Board budget comparison showed Acton’s BOH budget is a high $750,000 (versus about $75,000 for Carlisle), and that town might be approached to see if they have excess capacity. Risso had also looked into Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, a consortium of 14 area towns that offers inspections, nursing, social work and other health services for a fee.
He questioned if the size of the consortium would mean a queue for services, and noted several areas where the duties of Carlisle’s agent extend beyond what Nashoba offers. Grants and volunteer support were two areas of concern. Carlisle received over $34,000 in health-related grants this year, money that would not have been forthcoming without the oversight of the BOH agent, Linda Fantasia.
Cathy Galligan, a BOH board member in attendance, also noted that Carlisle saves considerable funds by using volunteers for many health services such as flu clinics. It is unlikely an outside agent would provide volunteer coordination. “I’m concerned we would lose more than we would gain,” said Risso.
Goddard said that when he worked for the town of Littleton, Nashoba provided services to their BOH, and “I see a good deal of overlap with what we’re doing here.” He believed the cost was very reasonable for a range of services, adding, “As part of our due diligence, I think it’s worth exploring.” Treasurer Larry Barton suggested, “Have a meeting, go through the services, and have a dialogue,” and Risso agreed to take that as an action item. It was noted that Town Meeting would have to approve any decision to join the association.
New areas for potential sharing
Goddard said a group of towns, including Concord, is looking at regionalizing dispatch services. It is not clear if Carlisle’s use of call firemen would be a barrier to joining a group dispatch operation, since the needs are more complex.
Pressed for other areas to explore, he noted, “It’s something of a luxury to have our own housing administrator.” This position is paid for with CPA funds and does not appear in the town budget. It was agreed to reassess once the outcome of a ballot question on 40B is known. Model questioned if the building inspector could be shared with another town. It was noted that Carlisle has used Concord inspection services in the past, and Goddard agreed to find out why a decision was made to employ our own inspector.
Barton reported that the town financial and assessment functions currently employ six people, some part-time. He said that it would not be hard for another entity to take over, “Assessment’s the same as every other community, bill processing’s the same, everything is pretty consistant across towns.” He added that one challenge is to find a willing partner, “I don’t know of a town that has any bandwidth in the financial area.” He said that, if these functions were outsourced, it should be done with one partner, starting with a small piece “so we can see what the pitfalls are.”
Barton noted that outsourcing carries advantages beyond the obvious. Moving employees off the payroll might save not only salary, but, potentially, health care, retirement and liability costs not reflected in department budgets. He added, “Maybe regionalization’s not the answer, but we have to explore further. I go back to the basic premise we’ve got to bend that (rising cost) curve.”
The next meeting was scheduled for November 17 at which time Risso expects to report on a meeting with Nashoba Associated Boards of Health.
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