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Small towns embrace sharing equipment, people

Nature of cooperation varies, but deals may help strapped towns stretch their resources

Staff writer

Most people learn the value of cooperation in grade school — but for cities the word can mean anything from sharing resources to ideas.

Hillsboro has a relationship with Peabody providing its water and sometimes working with Peabody employees on electric issues, Hillsboro city administrator Larry Paine said.

“It’s important, particularly as it’s harder to find employees with the right levels of training in both areas,” he said.

There are drawbacks to sending city workers to assist in neighboring communities, though, Paine said.

“If we were out of town helping another community and needed somebody to respond to a current Hillsboro issue then it would take us some time to get there,” he said. “On the other hand, our collaboration processes give us the ability to have good relationships with the working staff. It opens up the door.”

Making an effort to collaborate becomes more important the smaller a city is because there are fewer resources at that community’s disposal, Florence city councilman Ken Hoffman said.

“Communities of 1,000 people or less had better be figuring out what they’re going to do,” he said. “The state puts so many rules and regulations on you.”

Burns mayor Ryan Johnson proposed a partnership with Florence at last week’s Florence city council meeting, citing better employee compensation as a reason to pool resources.

Working together would create an opportunity to provide competitive pay, decreasing incentive for employees to leave, Johnson said at last week’s meeting.

“If you don’t pay them well, there are so many demands for them that they’ll just get their training and move on,” Hoffman said.

Sharing ideas is also an important aspect of cooperation that often goes unnoticed, Paine said.

Paine often meets with Marion city administrator Roger Holter, but they mostly trade phone calls, he said.

“The other part we haven’t talked about is the Larry and Roger part,” Paine said. “We talk about things that are more policy oriented than actual work skills that you would see one of our crews in the other’s town. Roger and I talk about things.”

With Burns and Florence 11 miles apart, proximity is a key factor in the success of a partnership, Hoffman said.

“That makes it a lot more feasible than being 20 miles apart or further,” he said.

Despite any advantages, there are some obstacles to sharing physical resources, said Marion public works director Marty Fredrickson.

“A lot of it comes down to liability,” he said. “Using somebody else’s equipment, you probably want to have their operators.”

Sending workers along with the equipment presents its own issue, potentially decreasing productivity, Fredrickson said.

“In a perfect world it’d be a good idea, but each town and county has plenty of work to do so it’s kind of hard to give up your equipment and your operators to assist.”

Being able to spare employees is a problem that will need solving for Burns and Florence as well, even if they enter a partnership, Hoffman said.

“The only disadvantage I see is that Florence and Burns are both so short staffed, I don’t know how we can do it with what we’ve got,” he said. “I’m very open to the idea of that happening. I just don’t know how we’re going to make it happen.”

There is an expectation of mutual aid and emergency assistance, similar to area fire departments, Fredrickson said.

Several cities within Marion County are members of Kansas Mutual Aid for Utilities, including Marion, Hillsboro, Florence, and Goessel.

One example of Marion utilizing emergency assistance was to repair electrical lines following severe ice storms in 2005, but those instances are uncommon, Fredrickson said.

Last modified Feb. 26, 2020

 

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