Cities and towns frequently save taxpayer dollars by borrowing equipment and manpower from one another.
The City of Belton loans equipment to nearby towns, which return the favor, a practice that originated with local fire departments, said City Administrator Alan Sims.
"If a neighboring town has a piece of equipment go down, or if they just need another piece to help them through a crisis, helping each other saves the taxpayers money from renting, or purchasing equipment that may not be needed on a regular basis," he said. The same goes for sharing equipment if a bad storm spared Belton but hit a nearby community.
The Town of Chesterfield, too, makes the most of neighborly cooperation.
"We have shared specialty equipment such as a trailer-mounted generator or wastewater bypass pump with neighboring municipalities in the past," said David Huntley, town administrator.
He recalled a time when the Town of Cheraw lost power to its water treatment plant because the main breaker had failed.
"Their backup generator provided temporary power until it failed after several hours. The Town of Chesterfield was able to loan them our trailer-mounted generator to power their water treatment plant until repairs could be made to return to power provide by the utility."
Before that, the Town of Chesterfield’s street sweeper was not effectively removing leaves along the curb.
"The Town of Cheraw allowed us to try their trailer-mounted leaf vacuum to see how it worked for our situation," said Huntley.
The Town of Springdale and City of West Columbia, too, share certain public works equipment on occasion.
"West Columbia also allows us to use their bucket truck and a staff member to put up our banners and Christmas lights," Jeff Stilwell, Springdale town administrator.
Sometimes these sharing agreements go a step or two further.
The towns of West Pelzer and Pelzer have combined their public works departments, a decision prompted in part by the departure of Pelzer’s public works director in March.
"Consolidation of salaries, equipment, vehicles, parts and office space allow significant savings for both towns, while still receiving the service that each town’s residents have grown accustomed to," West Pelzer Town Clerk/Administrator Paula Payton said. The decision to consolidate public works operations also allowed West Pelzer to hire additional maintenance staff to beautify Main Street.
"Another very important benefit is the opportunity for the two towns’ officials and employees to work closely together to better the community," said Payton.
"West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders described the arrangement as an extension of the concept of ‘two towns and one community’ that both town governments have promoted in recent months."
The partnership is still in the early stages, but so far, it’s been a very positive venture for both towns, Payton said.
"The most important things are communication, accountability and organization," she added. "We want to ensure every day that both towns are receiving the services they are paying for. Each town should be included and informed of all projects, expenses and plans of the joint Public Works Department."
Insurance and liability considerations
What cities and towns should do to ensure liability protection when sharing equipment or staff depends on each unique situation, according to Heather Ricard, director of the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services.
"For example, if a city is simply loaning equipment to another city, then the city that owns the equipment will schedule their equipment and cover the insurance," she said. "They may want to address in their sharing agreement who assumes the costs in the event of damage."
Otherwise, the loaning city will pay out-of-pocket costs, such as insurance deductibles, if any incident occurs. If several towns or cities pool their resources to purchase equipment together, however, they should have a more formalized agreement.
"The agreement should stipulate who will be the title owner of the equipment, and schedule that equipment on their records and purchase insurance," said Ricard. "In that case, they should also have a more formal agreement stipulating exactly how property damage and liability will be attributed in the event of an incident."
Workers’ compensation raises its own considerations.
For example, if Town A uses Town B’s employee to hang Christmas decorations, and Town B is paying that employee, then Town B would be responsible for reporting workers comp injuries to its insurance carrier. The towns should consider addressing who is responsible for workers’ compensation injuries prior to any activities in order to avoid confusion over which entity is considered the statutory employer of the injured employee.