Reports Show Strong Foundation For Increased Regional Collaboration

By Arthur Page

Release Date: April 9, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Western New York governments and other public-service entities have an "impressive and encouraging" record of cost-effective collaboration and a growing interest in more such efforts as an approach to building a stronger region.

Those are the conclusions of two reports released today by the new Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth at the University at Buffalo. One of the two reports details outcomes of a municipal-school district collaboration project conducted over the past year in northern Erie and Genesee Counties. The other summarizes ongoing collaborations among governments in nine Western New York counties.

"These reports are valuable not only because they offer models that area governments can use and replicate," said John B. Sheffer II, director of the institute, "but also because they give encouragement that if we now go about the task of regional cooperation in an even more deliberate and aggressive manner, it can really add up to something substantial in terms of the costs, efficiency and competitiveness of the region in the 21st century."

The Municipal-School District Collaborations Program was conducted in the 60th State Senate District with funds provided by Senator Mary Lou Rath, Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government. In two rounds of incentive grants under this program, a total of eight partnerships between municipalities and school districts received support for collaborative efforts.

Spurred by these incentive grants, the five projects funded in the first round of the program have achieved significant successes in terms of improved efficiencies and cost savings. For example, an effort jointly conducted by Byron-Bergen Central School District and the Village of Bergen in Genesee County anticipates that, by purchasing its electric power from the village, the district can realize annual savings of $175,000.

In another project, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Union Free School District and the Town of Tonawanda jointly developed a natural-gas fueling facility, saving $300,000 in construction costs for a separate station and vastly improving fueling efficiencies for both the Town and the District.

Both projects were initiated with program grants of $20,000 or less.

"These are the kinds of results we hoped for when this project was launched," said Senator Rath. "Indeed, the Municipal-School District Collaborations Program has been so successful that we have initiated a statewide pilot based on the same model. We will be announcing the projects funded in that statewide pilot within the month, but we can already say that the Western New York precedent has prompted more than 40 school-municipal partnerships around the state."

The second report released by the Institute contains the results of a survey conducted last fall in Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties.

Over 100 municipalities responded, reporting some 264 intermunicipal arrangements that, in some cases, extend back to the 1800s. "That's just the total for about 37 percent of the municipalities surveyed," Sheffer said, "which tells us that even this active picture of collaboration is just a fraction of what's going on out there."

Kathryn A. Foster, UB professor of planning who conducted the survey, noted, "What's so striking is not only the impressive number of intermunicipal arrangements, but also their breadth. You name the service, some municipality in Western New York is providing it collaboratively.

"Even services that many believe will never regionalize, like police and planning, are represented in some of the reported collaborations. And 97 percent of the respondents reported either steady or growing interest in collaboration with other municipalities and service providers, as compared to five years ago. As one municipality put it, 'We'll look at anything.'"

Collaborations reported in the survey included joint efforts on public-works projects, public safety, and other key services. The report also analyzes collaborations by legal arrangement, form of financing, and municipal type, and offers a look at some of the obstacles municipalities experience in developing collaborations-a subject which the Institute will continue to explore, according to the report.

In addition to several success stories of collaboration -- such as a brief sketch of Chautauqua County's Chadwick Bay Initiative -- the report also includes extensive and detailed lists of specific collaborations and partners listed by each municipality that responded.

Sheffer believes that the two reports clearly indicate both a basis for and a continuing interest in shared services.

"We at the institute believe these reports clarify a key point: Not only is regionalism not a new and radical idea, it's something that's been going on here for over a century in some cases, and local governments are eager to do more of it.

"The results add up to a lot of positives -- including an impressive history and an encouraging potential for the future. The important task now is to both understand and accelerate the effort. There is clearly a strong foundation of cooperation, but that does little good unless we are willing to build on it. For the Buffalo-Niagara region to be competitive, we must pick up the pace of regional initiatives."

Note: In addition to the copies of both reports attached here, copies are available from the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth (716-829-3777).