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Norway, Paris to look into sharing services
PARIS — Norway and Paris are looking for new ways to save money without being forced to cut important services.
To that end, the two towns are using a meeting this week to discuss the possibility of reducing costs by sharing rather than cutting.
Code enforcement is one area where the towns might soon have a good opportunity to begin sharing, and a variety of factors make the present as good a time as any to start.
Jeff van Decker, the Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) for Norway, will be retiring this spring, allowing for the two positions from Norway's and Paris's town offices to be merged without forcing anyone out of a job.
"Jeff van Decker will be retiring this spring and I've asked [Town Manager] Phil Tarr over in Paris to work with me to consider the possibility of combining the code office for the two towns," said Norway Town Manager David Holt.
Furthermore, the current economic climate has meant less code work than is required to fill 40 hours a week. Fewer new buildings are being constructed or renovated, which means that Norway has already cut back van Decker's hours significantly. Paris has similar codes, so the job that previously took two people for two towns could now, possibly, be done as effectively by one.
"The economy is slow, there is less work to do, there are fewer permits to hand out," said Holt. "Right now, our code officer is gone on Wednesdays and leaves early in the afternoon because we cut his hours back. If we combine these we might be able to have more hours than we otherwise would, and it would be available more than it otherwise would be. This would be appreciated by our contractors, who really need to have a code officer when they want him."
While improving services is certainly one advantage, the financial rewards of sharing offices such as code enforcement could be the greatest benefit to both towns. As well as saving money from having one salaried worker rather than two, taxpayers could also save by providing just one packet of benefits.
"One of the reasons that we need to share people is the cost of health insurance," Holt explained. "Providing health insurance for our employees is expensive, because the costs go up so much it means we can't have as many people as we used to have. We need to figure out what we need, and we need to fund those things. We have to have jobs for those people that include health insurance. But, we can't have a code officer here and a code officer here and a code officer here and towns paying different sets of health insurance. We're not going to have the ability to pay for that."
Nevertheless, there are stumbling blocks that could impede sharing. In the case of code enforcement, Paris's CEO Gerald Samson, already holds several positions at the town office, including Assessor. He may not have time to handle the extra responsibilities, according to Holt.
More generally, towns must always take into account differing philosophies and personalities when looking to sharing.
"Sharing is not always an easy thing for some people to embrace," said Holt. "A sharing partner needs to be someone who views the rules the same way."
Tarr agrees, "Political boundaries at town lines are there for a reason, and that is because years and years ago, towns were set up because people had a similar philosophical ideal, and it's not uncommon to see different feelings in different communities."
All this will need to be taken into account any time towns look to cooperate.
"There's a lot of tradition. The individuality of each town will play an important role in any decision that is made. Philosophical ways of approaching things will probably be different, and how much would each town be willing to give up in terms of control," argues Tarr.
Nonetheless, economic times dictate that looking for compromise could be of great use to the communities and the taxpayers who comprise them. Both Paris and Norway are looking at upcoming budget crunches, and any way to save money without sacrificing services is getting careful consideration.
Both town managers will be open to discussing matters and looking at what benefits a partnership could yield. Tarr believes that moving beyond the differences that separate the towns could yield positives.
"If there are ways where we can get beyond that and say, here are some places where we can save some hard dollars and work smarter not harder, then I would be all for it."