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Cities, towns getting together to give services; Grants promoting regionalization.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - Municipal regionalization, driven largely by tighter municipal budgets since 2008, appears to be taking hold in Massachusetts, project by project, with cash incentives from the state helping many communities find their way.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray yesterday announced $4 million in a new round of competitive grants for 138 cities and towns to help pay for initial regionalization efforts for a variety of local services.

"This, to me, is exciting, because we are seeing that people want that opportunity to do that work," Mr. Murray said of more than 100 regionalization proposals offered from 248 communities competing for this year's grant awards. "There is a real anxiousness to take advantage of opportunities to save money" at the local level, he said.

"Regionalization - I've said it time and time again and I know it sounds like a broken record - is a great opportunity for many of us to continue to provide quality services, but in a different and more cost-effective way," Mr. Murray said.

"We've got more public health departments than the state of Texas."

In Maryland, which he said is comparable in size and population to Massachusetts, there are 24 police and fire 911 dispatch call centers while Massachusetts has more than 250.

Brookfield, Brimfield, East Brookfield, Warren and West Brookfield, which are forming a regional equipment-sharing cooperative, received a $58,000 grant for that program.

Local officials said they hope to buy a new sign-painting machine and a heavy duty paving roller machine. They said that follows recent success in sharing expensive grass mowing equipment, trucks and drain cleaning equipment.

The grant money will be used to hire staff to set up the cooperative and determine cost allocations and sharing arrangements for the equipment.

Another 13 Central Massachusetts communities will share a $310,000 grant to set up a regional program to meet state and federal requirements for storm water management.

Spencer, Auburn, Charlton, Dudley, Holden, Leicester, Millbury, Oxford, Paxton, Shrewsbury, Sturbridge, Webster and West Boylston are working together on that program to combine services to monitor storm water for pollution, manage required storm water data and develop new storm water and drainage policies.

Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said the administration has proposed expanding the grant program next year to $7 million, up from $4 million this year.

There is a separate state program to fund 911 dispatch center sharing initiatives.

Other statewide grants were to expand regional special education services and vocational school districts. Some communities will use the grants to regionalize conservation commission work and develop financial management software.

Hopkinton and Ashland are studying the feasibility of combining fire departments and locating a station near their border to serve both towns.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 17, 2012
Words:453
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