Kent County, Mich., has joined forces with other local governments in the surrounding area to maximize the benefits it receives from eBay-style reverse auctions where vendors compete to provide services and products to government agencies. The practice saved the county more than $1 million in 2010, according to NaCO County News. Since then, Kent County has partnered with many other local governments that also benefit from participating.

Daryl Delabbio, Kent County administrator and controller, co-authored a report on shared agreements like this one with University of Maryland at Baltimore County assistant professor of public policy Eric Zeemering.

“With the recent recession,” Zeemering said, “I think more counties have begun to look at local governments inside their own borders and to their neighboring counties to identify areas in which they can begin to create efficiencies and economies of scale, and perhaps even improve services with constrained budgets through partnerships with other governments.”

The report, A County Manager's Guide to Shared Services in Local Government, included results of a survey of county officials from several states. More than half of survey participants indicated that conversations among local government representatives about shared services have increased over the last year.

Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents keep in touch with peers in neighboring governments to look for ways to collaborate on delivering services.

Funded by IBM's Center for the Business of Government, the study identified four primary reasons that counties enter into shared service agreements: to stimulate innovation, improve decision-making, improve service or enhance relationships with other government entities.

Delabbio and Zeemering also issued five recommendations for governments considering shared service arrangements:

1. Create a shared service assessment team.

2. Identify strengths in participating governments.

3. Consider pilot projects.

4. Discuss and document responsibilities with partners.

5. Make appropriate changes as needed.

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