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Shared services a help to taxpayers, towns and schools.

In these times of rising taxes and budgets cuts, it is more important than ever to be creative in finding new ways to save taxpayer money while still providing the resources necessary to maintain a successful community. Shared services can be an effective way to accomplish this objective. "Shared services" is not a completely new concept, but inter-municipality cooperation has long been hindered by New Jersey's traditional "home rule" governmental approach, which has prevented both regional shared service projects, as well as intra-municipality shared service projects.

Long relegated to the sharing of services such as landscaping and snow removal, municipalities and boards of education are beginning to realize the huge advantages to pursuing out-of-the-box thinking by expanding this concept to the concept of sharing facilities and land. Shared services in facilities helps to achieve new and/or expanded facilities while at the same time avoiding exorbitant expenses.

The cost savings alone on a shared building make the prospect of constructing two separate facilities wasteful.

Municipalities increasingly encounter a number of challenges, including pressure from taxpayers, budget woes and growing populations. Shared service facility projects can be any semi-compatible services provided to the residents of the community.

Examples include community centers, day care facilities, libraries, senior housing, office space and athletic facilities and fields.

A large portion of a municipal budget is allocated to the school budget, so by the very nature of fiscal cooperation, shared service facilities inherently are beneficial, but such an intra-municipal approach has failed because of a lack of communication and a solid, working relationship between the board of education, departments and the municipality itself.

Traditionally, school districts face a number of challenges in creating or expanding facilities including community approval, lengthy construction time and cost of bonding a project. Through a shared services approach, school business administrators can shift debt from the school budget to a municipal budget, which then provides municipalities with greater access to grants, including the "Safe Street to School" grant provided by the Department of Transportation, "Green Acres" grant and community development grants, that help offset costs, which are otherwise not available to the Boards of Education. In addition, school boards eliminate the need for a referendum, minimize financing fees, expedite the financing and approvals processes and gain access to additional building sites not otherwise available.

DMR Architects' involvement has been in the forefront with shared service facilities--most recently in Lyndhurst where a shared services initiative will result in a facility housing the municipal sponsored Lyndhurst Youth Community Center and the Board of Education's offices. DMR Architects not only designed the facility, but was also able to facilitate the cooperation of the Board of Education and the municipality. Both benefited compromise that did not require any losses on either side.

The Board of Education is receiving a centrally located administrative office directly on the campus of Lyndhurst High School--rent-free and the Township is developing a new youth center on land it did not have to purchase.

The Township of Lyndhurst utilized the Bergen County Improvement Authority to fund the project alone. This resulted in a streamlined financing and approval process and shorter turnaround time. Finally, it provided taxpayers over $100,000 in yearly savings in rent for the Board of Education.

In addition, the township's share of the project costs were reduced $850,000 due to a partnership with a developer. Given the success of this initiative, even more shared services opportunities have presented themselves in Lyndhurst, including a proposed community pool and proposed new Pre-K and day care facility.

Opportunities like these exist wherever forward-thinking individuals come to the table to seek out a mutually beneficial solution. With the huge benefits that can be realized in shared services, more municipalities should adopt this approach.

It just makes sense for municipalities and, more importantly, for taxpaying residents throughout New Jersey.



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Title Annotation:INSIDER'S OUTLOOK
Author:Rosenberg, Lloyd A.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Aug 30, 2006
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