They first met last year in Streetsboro. They met again last month in Stow.
In about two months, service directors from Copley to Ravenna will meet for lunch in Twinsburg. They’ll talk about how each municipality tackles public works projects from road repairs to inspections.
While most districts face budget deficits and shrinking state funding, the meetings are part of an initiative to share knowledge, resources and services in an effort to curb operating expenses.
And their first collaborations are coming to fruition.
Streetsboro, Kent and Ravenna have applied for a $100,000 Local Government Initiative Grant for an asphalt recycler. Each of the three local governments would share the remaining $25,000 to purchase the piece of equipment, which each service director has plans to use.
The asphalt recycler would reduce the amount of asphalt that cools, hardens and is inevitably wasted as road crews transport the material from producers to worksites.
But the vehicle serves a greater use, Kent City Service Director Gene Roberts explains.
If the grant is approved and the three cities prove that they can share the piece of equipment, then the asphalt recycler would serve as a successful project that could launch more collaborative efforts.
“Ultimately, the sharing of equipment can be made to work,” Roberts said.
The service directors would first have to determine who maintains the shared equipment, who fixes it and how they would tackle liability issues when loaning the equipment to another district.
Roberts said municipalities currently share equipment only during emergencies. He launched a collaborative database using Wikipedia’s online services. The database allows service directors to view equipment availability.
“The idea is it’s 4 a.m. and the tornado just passed,” Roberts said. “I need equipment, and I need it now.”
The database is shared among Kent, Aurora, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Manaway, Ravenna City and Township, Shalersville, Stow, Streetsboro and Twinsburg.
It’s similar to a mutual aid agreement among emergency services, but it’s an informal agreement for the time being that only covers emergency equipment.
Along with limited use, service directors would need council’s approval to rent a piece of equipment to or from another district.
“[We’re] talking as a group about doing a mutual aid agreement,” Miller said, focusing on maintenance and construction equipment rather than emergency equipment.
If the formal proposal passed, then service directors could bypass council and lease or rent expensive equipment like backhoes, boom trucks and the asphalt mixer.
“We’re looking to try to develop a list so we don’t all have to buy large equipment that isn’t used a lot,” Miller said.
“There is not a community in Ohio that can say, ‘We have all the money we need’,” Roberts said of curbing operating costs. “We have to share.”
The process would be similar to Kent loaning a bucket truck to Aurora each year, Roberts explained. Equipment rental could be paid in shared services or fees.
For the next meeting in Twinsburg, service directors will talk about these and other issues, including minimizing road damage caused by transporting wastewater from oil and gas drilling.
“It’s an ongoing collaborative effort,” Roberts said.