By Ray Carbone
BRADFORD – Two years ago the town administrators from Bradford, Sutton and Warner got together to see if they could save their towns some money when the time came around to make their annual winter fuel purchases.
“Instead of Bradford buying 5,000 gallons, Sutton buying something like its 5,000 gallons and Warner buying its 10,000 or whatever, we did a joint fuel bid,” recalled Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator. “And we got a great rate.”
The administrative trio was so encouraged by the results they’re now meeting on a regular basis, exploring ways their towns can work together for their mutual benefit.
“For the past year the towns of Sutton, Bradford and Warner have had conversations about consolidating certain services, either for expanding services or because it would be more cost effective,” explained Elly Phillips, Sutton’s town administrator.
“I think there’s a lot of cool opportunities to save money here and there, backing each other up, helping each other out,” agreed Hambleton.
For instance the regular joint administrators’ meeting has addressed the idea of buying or renting equipment together in the future, according to Jim Bingham, Warner’s administrator.
“Take roadside mowing. Each town needs to do it for a few weeks in the summer and we always rent a tractor,” he said. “But when you look at what the towns are spending, we could own one in six years for what we’re paying for a single year’s rental.”
If issues related to storage, maintenance costs, insurance etc. could be agreed to, the towns might consider making a joint tractor-mower purchase, he suggested.
The towns could even look at shared professional services, the administrators noted.
“I’m talking about things like code enforcement, building inspections, planning or even town administrators – which I hate to say,” Phillips said. “The times are changing, and these little towns need professionals.”
The novel approach could attract more qualified professionals than what a single small community can afford to pay, according to Bingham.
To some extent the shared services idea has already been done.
When Sutton voters elected a new town clerk in March, Bradford helped out by allowing residents in their neighboring community to register their vehicles in Bradford for a few weeks, while the new employee received her necessary training, Hambleton said.
Of course the town administrators can’t make any cooperative agreements by themselves.
Hambleton, Bingham and Phillips have to win the approval and support of their respective elected three-member select boards before any deals can move forward.
But the trio says the possible savings and service improvements are worth the time and effort to investigate.
“It’s just a matter of changing the way we think,” Hambleton said. “It’s just appropriate to have our towns working together.”
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.