Digging Deeper: Towns, cities sharing services to save money

The dream of efficient government services streamlined by combining cities and towns has been in the heads of good government types in Rhode Island for decades.

The current legislature is trying to make good on the promise of savings through efficiency.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma chairs a joint committee that is hearing from experts on the feasibility of combining tax collection duties and also public safety dispatching services.

"Municipal services are paid predominately through property tax. At the end of the day, how do we spend most efficiently, most effectively the property tax dollar? That's what this is going to do," he said.

The city of Pawtucket has already started sharing services.

It entered a joint contract with East Providence and Central Falls for garbage collection. It has also combined information technology services from the school department and the city.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said there have been challenges to get even this far.

"First thing, honestly, is change. People are afraid of giving up what they perceive as control so it's getting through that culture. The second biggest issue is where you get into contracts," he said.

Ultimately, it will be up to local governments to make the switch to combined services. The order can't come down from the State House.

"We still have Article 13, Section 4 of the Rhode Island Constitution that talks to the home rule charter. The state cannot mandate this," DiPalma said.

The legislative committee is charged with coming up a shared services plan to at least offer municipalities by the end of next year.