The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau completed a best practices review of local government road operations in 1999. Because expenditures for road and street construction and repair account for nearly 16 percent of all local government spending, and 51.5 percent of town government spending, cooperative efforts in this area have the potential for substantial savings and improved service delivery for residents.

A survey of all town chairs and county highway commissioners indicates that several general types of intergovernmental cooperative agreements are currently in use in Wisconsin. For example, several local governments have jointly purchased equipment such as brush chippers and shoulder reshaping machines for mutual use. Other local governments have developed innovative means of sharing the expense of repairing and maintaining border roads or have worked together to purchase supplies and equipment in quantity in order to reduce unit prices.

Local governments identified three factors as perceived barriers to the formation of cooperative agreements: maintenance responsibility questions, liability and insurance concerns, and union contract prohibitions. Many local officials stated that they had concerns related to responsibility for maintenance or repair to jointly owned machinery, particularly in the event of misuse or abuse of the equipment. However, municipalities that had agreed to share equipment ownership did not report significant difficulties related to maintenance.

Local government representatives also expressed concern over which party in a cooperative agreement would be financially and legally liable for any damage or injury that resulted while equipment or personnel were involved in road maintenance and repair work. To assess the validity of such concern, we interviewed representatives from insurance carriers that provide coverage to Wisconsin municipalities. These representatives indicated that by working closely with the agents involved, local governments could adequately address important liability and insurance concerns within the context of the agreement.

Finally, many local government officials believe that union contract language could hinder cooperative efforts. However, representatives of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) believe the perception of possible union-related barriers to cooperation is overstated. Because only 8 of the 1,266 towns in Wisconsin are represented by AFSCME, it appears that concerns related to union work rules—rather than the union rules themselves—may be the actual barrier to the formation of cooperative agreements.

The report includes the following sections:

JOINT EQUIPMENT OWNERSHIP

  • Equipment Suitable for Joint Ownership
  • Determining Other Municipality Interest
  • Sharing Purchase and Maintenance Costs
  • Equipment Storage
  • Liability Considerations
  • Documenting Agreements
  • Maintaining Successful Agreements

GROUP PURCHASING ARRANGEMENTS

  • Types of Group Purchases
  • Using Group Purchasing Power
  • OTHER RESOURCE-SHARING AGREEMENTS

  • Equipment Rental
  • Per Mile Fees
  • Trading Services
  • Joint Repair or Maintenance Agreements
  • Combining Existing Resources
  • Union Contract Prohibitions
  • APPENDIX I — BEST PRACTICES LOCAL GOVERNMENT ADVISORY COUNCIL

    APPENDIX II — SURVEY OF TOWN AND COUNTY OFFICIALS

    APPENDIX III — EXAMPLE OF A JOINT OWNERSHIP AGREEMENT

    APPENDIX IV — EXAMPLE OF AN EQUIPMENT SURVEY

    APPENDIX V — EXAMPLE OF A JOINT OWNERSHIP AGREEMENT

    APPENDIX VI — EXAMPLE OF A JOINT OWNERSHIP AGREEMENT

    APPENDIX VII — EXAMPLE OF A PER MILE MAINTENANCE AGREEMENT

    APPENDIX VIII — EXAMPLE OF AN EXCHANGE AGREEMENT

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