Intergovernmental cooperative initiatives

Harry L. Weed, II
Superintendent, Department of Public Works
Incorporated Village of Rockville Centre, New York
Member, APWA Facilities & Grounds Committee

There are many reasons for cooperating with other municipalities to fulfill municipal services, including economies of scale, convenience, utilizing unequal distribution of resources and surplus facilities, and eliminating duplicate services. The municipalities that may participate in intermunicipal agreements (IMAs) include counties, cities, towns, villages, board of cooperative educational services, fire districts, and school districts. There is no limit on the number of municipalities that may participate in any one intermunicipal agreement.

While there is no requirement that IMAs be in writing, it is strongly recommended that every IMA, no matter how minor in detail, be put in writing. Municipalities that currently have informal IMAs should formalize those by putting them in writing. There are two main types of IMAs: service agreements and joint agreements. A service agreement is essentially a contract in which one municipality agrees to provide a service to another municipality at a stated price. A joint agreement exists when the municipalities agree to perform a function together. Joint agreements usually provide for significant participation by each of the municipalities. Which type of agreement is used depends upon the nature of the function that is going to be performed. As a general rule, however, multifaceted projects may not lend themselves to joint agreements due to the complexity of administering and performing the agreement. In many ways, service agreements resemble regular contracts which municipalities enter into every day. When drafting service agreements, municipalities need to consider:

  • The nature of the agreement (identifying the governments involved and describing the type of service to be performed);
  • The scope of service (setting forth performance standards and limitations on the service);
  • Service charges (establishing the amount, times and manner of payments);
  • Each party's duty to defend and indemnify;
  • The term of the IMA;
  • The method of amending the IMA; and
  • The circumstances under which the IMA may be terminated.

Joint agreements take many forms, including mutual aid agreements (i.e., for fire departments agreeing to assist each other when necessary) or joint projects that serve all the parties to the IMA, such as water and sewer systems. Issues to consider when entering into joint agreements are:

  • The nature and composition of the joint agreement's governing body, if any;
  • Which municipalities are to provide personnel;
  • Financial considerations (including the method for equitably apportioning costs and revenues); and
  • Property considerations (i.e., is property to be acquired and held jointly or by only one municipality).

One particular issue to address in the IMA is the process for supervising and disciplining employees. This issue should be addressed thoroughly to avoid confusion and conflicts.

Every IMA must be approved by a majority vote of the governing body of each municipality that is a party to the agreement. In addition, if the municipality's authority to perform any function is subject to a public hearing, a mandatory of permissive referendum, the consent of other governmental agencies, or other requirements applicable to making contracts, then its ability to participate in any IMA to perform the same function is similarly conditioned.

Below is a current IMA that has been in operation since 1992 and growing:

The Incorporated Village of Rockville Centre is located in southwestern Nassau County, 25 miles east of midtown Manhattan, with a population of 24,528 residents in 9,200 households. The Village provides for its residents: a police and fire department, water, electric and a public works service which includes a highway department, as well as a storm and sanitary sewer department, a central garage and sanitation.

  A trailer being loaded in the Rockville Centre transfer station

The Village has a state-of-the-art sanitation facility which includes a transfer station located on the Department of Public Works grounds. This facility is the key to our multi-village municipal agreement. The Village of Rockville Centre also hauls waste for the Incorporated Villages of Lynbrook and East Rockaway. Although the agreement with the Village of East Rockaway is newly acquired, the Village of Lynbrook agreement has been in effect and working for the past 14-plus years. Lynbrook has supplied and paid for two tractors with trailers to which any major repairs or service costs are split between the Villages.

The Villages of Lynbrook and East Rockaway pay a user fee for the transfer station. The transfer station building is set up so that the trucks back up a ramp and the trailer is situated in a tunnel. The trucks back up and dump into the trailer. Located above the trailer is a stationary mounted hydraulic clam shell type excavator to pack and load the trailer below. Each trailer can hold up to three to four 20-yard trucks.

A truck backing up through the radiation detectors at the Rockville Centre transfer station

The advantage to this facility is to save on a 25-mile round trip to the burn facility. The savings in mileage is also a savings in wear and tear of trucks, tires, fuel, as well as time. There have been wait times of two to three hours to dump, with four trucks making two to three trips per day (which totals an average of 100 less miles per day, per truck). This also limits the exposure to accidents and mishaps, allowing crews to finish collection on their routes and not incur overtime which is an additional savings.

Every municipality can probably benefit from entering into at least one, if not multiple IMAs. IMAs are great resources for lowering municipal costs while at the same time improving service.

I would like to thank New York Conference of Mayors' Wade Beltramo for his contributions to this article.

Harry L. Weed, II can be reached at (516) 678-9267 or hlwadpw@aol.com.