Taking Action: Sharing people and expertise in Algonquin, Ill. - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Taking Action: Sharing people and expertise in Algonquin, Ill.

Village of Algonquin

Algonquin, Ill., developed creative solutions to the budget crunch that came with the Great Recession.

This post was authored by MPC Research Assistant Quentin Shipley-Mellon.

Across the country, governments are investing in efficiency. Motivated by budget crunches, scarce resources, service duplication and the desire to spur economic development, public officials are exploring consolidation, collaboration and other means to better serve their constituents. In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will highlight efforts to improve government efficiency.

With a battle royale currently underway in Springfield, local governments still have to keep functioning. That’s not always easy, especially on the heels of a recession many communities have not fully recovered from. Yet local government leaders across the region have found ways to become more efficient and effective in delivering services to their taxpayers.

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus estimates that 95 percent of municipalities in the Chicago metropolitan area are teaming up with their neighbors. And we know momentum is growing to clean up the messy system that is government in Illinois.

At the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), we set out to find examples of governments that are worthy of applause for their efforts to be and do better. Along the way, the Village of Algonquin, 40 miles northwest of Chicago, has stood out as one local government that has used some creative thinking to endure the recession and subsequent budget woes.

By embracing a business-like mentality of providing service to customers, Algonquin identified several ways to be more efficient with the resources at hand, including sharing staff and pooling resources with neighboring towns to create more effective operations. In recent years, the Village has even contracted out their personnel to serve the needs of neighboring communities.

Here’s how one such innovation played out: By 2011, the slowdown in the economy had led to a budget crunch and less demand for services from the city in some areas like building inspection. There just wasn’t enough construction happening to fill the time of one full-time staff person. So rather than reducing the hours of a village employee, Algonquin formed a new agreement with the neighboring Village of Huntley to contract out Algonquin’s building inspector. As a result, budgets in both communities benefited; Huntley saved by not hiring and Algonquin found a new source of revenue.

We know that these kinds of agreements have meant growing revenue for Algonquin: $58,600 in 2011, $156,100 in 2012 and $173,200 in 2013. This is means more money in the city’s pockets to funnel toward additional and better services for the residents. By 2013, Algonquin had formed intergovernmental agreements with seven surrounding municipalities, allowing for the contracting of staff and services to others. Thanks to the success of the program, these original seven agreements have ballooned to an exceptional 23.

The services Algonquin contracts out or partners with other cities to deliver include:

  • Mechanic & Fleet Services
  • GIS and Information Technology Services
  • Building Inspection Services
  • School Safety Services
  • Infrastructure Routine Maintenance
  • Snow Plowing

With the number of agreements growing, we can only imagine that new revenue and savings for the Village has accumulated considerably.

And the benefits work both ways. The Village of Huntley estimates a savings of nearly $100,000 itself by participating in these agreements. For these neighboring communities, it eliminates the need to create and maintain their own departments, and streamlines the process for contracting out services.

In addition to sharing the services of its departments and their staff, Algonquin is also pooling resources with neighbors to save money on purchases for operations. As a member of the Municipal Partnering Initiative, the Village comes together with other local governments to leverage collaboration and create economies of scale. By choosing to tackle projects alongside one another, cities and towns jointly buy equipment in bulk, which drives down the cost to complete a job.

But it’s not all about the monetary savings. When it comes to the role of government service, it all boils down to how well the service is occurring. “Residents think in terms of service, not geographic boundaries,” stated Tim Schloneger, the village manager for Algonquin. “To them, it doesn’t really matter who owns or who is performing the services as long as they get it done effectively.”

Not resting on their laurels, Algonquin is continuously improving effectiveness in their operations. They are working on adding to the 23 agreements already in place in areas such as satellite garages and employee training.

Algonquin is at the forefront of a new initiative, the Illinois Road Scholar Program. This public works employee program aims to develop and support those who plan, build, maintain and improve the roads that are vital to communities. The program has set out to promote training and technical assistance to enhance skills and knowledge. It hopes to create a new network of high-quality public works employees to create sustainable communities and better quality of life for residents.

Here at MPC, along with our partners in Transform Illinois, we are eager to see the progress made to improve the effectiveness of government. Throughout Chicagoland, local governments are seeking out the best ways to get citizens the services they have promised to them. Together, these communities are heralding a new era of efficiency in Illinois.

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