Staples, Minn.,
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Working Together to do More

“Shared Services has minimized the impact on our budget, and by grouping together and sharing a position, we're able to have access to expertise that would be costly if we went it alone.” - Lisa Sova City Clerk & Treasurer City of Crosby

By Jenny Holmes

It's a simple concept taught to children at an early age. However, NJPA has taken sharing to the next level and has made life - and business - easier for organizations throughout Region 5.

Since 2013, NJPA has offered Shared Services resources to its members. Because NJPA employs a number of professionals in a variety of fields—cities, townships, counties, and school districts are able to tap into a high-quality, cost-effective labor pool and utilize resources without having to employ their own full-time positions.

The city of Crosby is a prime example of the benefit of Shared Services. Lisa Sova, Crosby city clerk and treasurer, said her city was left in a lurch when looking for a planning and zoning administrator. After an unsuccessful request for proposal process, the city looked to Crow Wing County for assistance. For three months, Land Services filled the gap by assisting with planning and zoning matters. However, last year, the city approached NJPA about the need for part-time help on a limited budget and labor pool.

Anna Gruber, manager of NJPA's City and County Solutions, said NJPA quickly discovered other cities and townships shared similar struggles – a need for professional services but not enough money to attract and sustain part-time help. Soon after, planning and zoning administration was added to the list of Shared Services offerings at NJPA.

“We run every requested shared service through a shared service decision matrix,” Gruber explained. “From the matrix, we score it based on multiple decision factors to ensure that it is truly a shared service that has high regional impact and need.”

For the past year, the city of Crosby has contracted through NJPA to receive quality planning and zoning services for only the amount of time needed, which can vary from month to month.

“It couldn't have worked out better for us,” Sova said. “We are now able to provide a higher level of service to our residents than we would as a stand-alone. And the pricing is very reasonable. Shared Services has minimized the impact on our budget, and by grouping together and sharing a position, we're able to have access to expertise that would be costly if we went it alone.”

Gruber said through research and member feedback, NJPA has created a menu of services available for contract by its members. For the last two-plus years, the city of Crosby has also utilized shared information technology services through NJPA. Again, Sova said, the level of expertise and professionalism is not only top-notch, but also affordable, which is incredibly valuable to smaller communities such as Crosby.

“Our technician's response time is incredible,” Sova said. “When we have an issue and place a call to the technician assigned to our area, he responds immediately. If he isn't on site, he remotes in to our computers and takes care of it. The service we have now is so much more superior compared to the services we had previously, and at a much higher level of reliability. Again, this is something we couldn't afford as a small city.”

Gruber said approximately 20 city and county entities in Region 5, as well as one township, utilize one aspect or another of Shared Services opportunities. Professionals are employed and paid directly by NJPA. Services are then hired out to members at a subsidized rate with a savings of over 50 percent.

“The shared service model is a powerful benefit to entities in our region, especially smaller entities who cannot justify a full-time employee or cannot recruit an employee for the specific need they have – especially for areas like planning and zoning and IT, where finding talent is extremely difficult,” Gruber said. “Shared Services make a lot of sense for needs that are not full-time all the time. This is an extremely cost-effective and efficient way for entities to get the work done—by sharing and collaborating with others.” A recent report by the Alliance for Innovation titled, “The Next Big Thing”, points to research of what government will look like in the next 20 years. Within that vision are hints of the Shared Services model.

“During the recession, we saw local government outsource services and reengineer others,” noted Robert J O'Neill Jr., executive director of the International City/County Management Association. “In the next 20 years, we'll see local governments use more and more innovative approaches to address their communities' challenges. They'll work more collaboratively with other cities and counties, to further leverage economies of scale. You'll see more partnerships between government, nonprofits and the private sector. Because as our challenges get more complex, we need more nuanced responses beyond the traditional boundaries of local government.”

Gruber said NJPA's Shared Services model has already begun addressing that issue and making it possible for local government and education to do more with less.

“I believe it has made a substantial difference. I think if you spoke with any of the 21 entities involved, they would agree. They are able to access subject matter experts in areas that they themselves would likely not be able to recruit the talent – or afford the talent. As government looks to do more with less, sharing seems to be an obvious solution.”

NJPA partners with cities, counties, and schools to support the following areas:

∙ IT software development
∙ IT project management
∙ Strategic planning for schools
∙ School climate
∙ School data


∙ Self-insured health insurance pool

∙ IT specialists
∙ Project managers
∙ Social service contract management
∙ Child care & adult foster care licensing
∙ Planning & zoning specialists
∙ English language learner teachers
∙ Instructional coaches
∙ Social workers
∙ Education consultants
∙ Teacher recruitment

∙ Instruction
∙ Curriculum
∙ School leadership
∙ Classroom management

About NJPA

Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 200 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.