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Article Summary

Coon, James A. n.d. "Intergovernmental Cooperation." Local Government Technical Series. Albany, NY: Department of State.

This article discusses possible reasons for considering formal intergovernmental cooperation and examines practical and legal considerations. The author points out that the desirability of cooperative efforts among governments depends on economies of scale, convenience of performing the task, distribution of natural resources, surplus physical facilities, and the need for duplication of services.

Decreasing unit costs of services such as water and sewage treatment and incineration encourage municipalities to enter into intergovernmental cooperative agreements to achieve economies of scale. When one government can more easily perform a task, cooperation may also be sought. For example, town highway departments may perform work for other jurisdictions when it is more convenient. In the case of natural resources that are not equally available in every jurisdiction, such as water and sand, intergovernmental cooperation may be required to fulfill the needs of their communities. When municipalities have surplus physical facilities due to population decline or shifting local priorities, intermunicipal cooperation for sharing facilities such as office space often yield savings. Municipalities may also reduce duplication of services by sharing police services or fire and ambulance dispatching services.

In addition, the author addresses legal information needed for two types of formal cooperative agreements, service agreements and joint agreements. Under service agreements, one local government contracts with another to provide service at a stated price. The contract will contain basic elements: the nature of the agreement (type of service, reason for contract, statutory authority for the arrangement); scope of service (performance standards, limitations on the services availability); service charges (amount, times, and manner of payments); liabilities of the parties (specific provisions to cover responsibility for damage to persons or properties); and contract term (duration of the agreement).

Under a joint agreement, governments agree to share the performance of a function or the construction and operation of a facility. In New York State, all counties outside the City of New York and all cities, villages, towns, and school districts are allowed to enter joint operating agreements. Unlike a service agreement, a joint agreement requires a majority vote of the governing body of each locality, and any referendum or special consent required by law for an additional government to provide a service. In addition to the "service contract" elements, joint agreements should clearly define the composition of the governing body, the method of selection of its members, selection and duties of its officers, the staffing arrangements for the workforce of joint agency, financial considerations such as the method of apportioning costs among jurisdictions, and property considerations, including defining ownership of property and termination of the agreement.