By Gabe Licht
INDEPENDENCE, MN Since 1979, Maple Plain and Independence have been served by the same police department. Could the two communities be sharing administration, staff, and facilities in the near future?
A joint meeting between members of the two city councils addressed that possibility, as a representative from David Drown Associates presented the results of a feasibility study Wednesday.
“The intent was to get the report, regurgitate it, and think about it,” Independence Mayor Marvin Johnson said. “The main part of the report was not recommending a merger, but sharing administration and public works like we do with police.”
Historically, the two communities considered a merger in 1998; however, Maple Plain City Council voted to remain independent. Since 2014, the Shared Services Committee, made up of the city administrators and two elected officials from each community, have examined options for additional service sharing and the communities decided to merge newsletters and summer festivals.
The study presented Wednesday consisted of data analysis and individual interviews of all council members, most employees, and consultants serving each community.
“The study confirmed a strong desire to work effectively together with the understanding that a complete merger was not the short-term goal,” the report said. “Since the communities already enjoy a highly successful joint-powers police service, staff and councilors are motivated to examine other ventures that may yield similar positive outcomes.”
Recommendations include consolidating administrative services in a single office location, consolidation of public works services, expanding the services provided by the Independence building official and eliminating a contract for building official services in Maple Plain, creating a joint powers board to oversee shared operations, coordinating council meetings, and considering the possibility of a full merger of the two communities in the future.
All recommendations could add up to more than $150,000 in annual savings if implemented, according to the report.
Administrative restructuring would consist of a shared administrator, a shared building official/plow operator, a shared accountant/office manager, a full-time office support specialist, and a half-time office support specialist. Restructuring would eliminate an administrator position, Maple Plain’s contract for building official services, and Independence’s contract for CPA services.
Overall, administrative restructuring is expected to save the two entities $103,310, including $45,000 in CPA fees, $31,200 in wages, $12,360 for Maple Plain’s contract for building official services, and $6,250 in city-paid benefits.
Currently, Independence City Hall is in a shared facility with West Hennepin Public Safety, while the Maple Plain City Hall is rented for $31,455 per year from Orono Schools through 2018.
“Either facility has advantages and disadvantages to the citizenry; however, locating all administrative functions to the Independence campus is appealing because of the available space at the facility and the fact that police and public works both are located there,” according to the report.
Due to the lease between Maple Plain and Orono Schools, that may not be possible, so the study included the possibility of consolidating operations at the Maple Plain office and utilizing Independence City Hall for community events or other uses.
Both public works facilities would continue to be used, with the Independence site serving as the operational base and the Maple Plain facility being used for storage of off-season and lesser-used equipment.
As for the public works department, a shared public works director would oversee three full-time equipment operators and one quarter-time equipment operator.
That collaboration is expected to save $53,450, including $41,600 in wages, $6,250 in city-paid benefits, and $5,000 in equipment contracts.
“By combining these service areas, there is certainly potential for cost savings,” the report said. “It is important to point out, however, that these changes may not all take place at one time and, in some cases, not at all.”
It also noted that unemployment benefits would need to be paid and the cost estimates did not include cost increases resulting from upgrading the single administrator, public works director, and accountant/office manager positions.
Ultimately, the recommendation was that “the merger of administration, building official, and public works take place as quickly as possible. The political climate is positive for such a move and, while there will be some painful parts to the process, it is clear that the time is right for such a consolidation to take place.”
If that consolidation takes place, it is recommended that a Joint Powers Board, made up of the mayors and city councils of both cities, be established.
Throughout the study, reactions to sharing more services were mixed.
“Council comments were very positive about the relationship between the communities and the strength of the foundation to permit additional sharing of services,” the report said.
Council comments ranged from “Sharing equipment and talent would be a good thing,” to “Concern about citizen buy in and understanding this effort.”
“Staff members and consultants generally expressed support for the examination of sharing additional services; however, they shared greater concern about the details of how implementation would take place,” the report continued. “Given that employees stand to be significantly impacted by sharing additional services, there is apprehension and concern for some.”
Staff and consultant comments ranged from “The communities are unique and staff do a good job of meeting the different needs in each community,” to “Sharing more services could eliminate redundancies in the communities.”
Johnson noted that the two councils are early in the discussion.
“What was decided was each council would be discussing it at their own council meetings and, at a later date, we’ll meet together to talk more,” Johnson said.
The full report can be found in the city council portion of the Maple Plain website and is titled “CC Packet Joint Council MTG May 27.”