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Article Summary

New York State Office of the State Comptroller. 1994. "Local Government Cooperative Service Provision." Albany, NY.


In much of the privatization debate the idea of alternative government service provision usually leads to a question of whether to privatize or not. Little attention is paid to the idea of collaboration between municipalities. In this study of intermunicipal cooperation, the Office of the New York State Comptroller has provided a wealth of information, ranging from guiding legal principles to general agreement guidelines, that could facilitate a practical solution for governments seeking to improve the delivery of their services.

Programs for Intermunicipal Cooperation

The study's conclusion indicates there are six programs where intermunicipal cooperation results in outcomes that have a wide applicability in New York State. These are: 1) Recreation, 2) Sewage and Wastewater Treatment, 3) Multi-employer Collective Bargaining Research and Support, 4) Highway Transportation, 5) Purchasing and, 6) Police Services. These are by no means the only areas where municipalities may benefit from cooperation. Indeed, outlined in the document are several other cases, unrelated to the above mentioned programs, where municipalities have shown gains. Day care, emergency management, health care, general administration, cultural activities, and air transportation are some that are mentioned. The possibilities for intermunicipal cooperation abound.

Criteria for Analysis

The Office of the Comptroller, in considering cases for inclusion in this study, selected those programs based on three main criteria: 1) Their ease of implementation, 2) Cost/benefit justification and, 3) Applicability to large numbers of municipalities. The primary objective of the study was to develop specific program initiatives most suited to the needs of New York State local governments. Essentially, a how to' guide is provided.

Intermunicipal Cooperation and State Law

Under Article 5-G of the General Municipal Law, any municipal corporation or district may participate in a cooperative agreement. While other laws exist that enable municipalities to act in concert with each other, Article 5-G provides overriding statutory authority for cooperative agreements. This is important because the law does not preside over the underlying activity or service, just the agreement. In terms of who may actually engage in such activities, any combination of cities, towns, villages, boards of cooperative educational services, fire districts or school districts are eligible to participate. A provision to include public libraries is discussed. Two types of agreements are identified in relation to this law. The first is an agreement where municipalities jointly provide an activity while the other is a contractual arrangement between participants.

Within Article 5-G are legal requirements that each participant must consider. For instance, municipal corporations may only enter into an intermunicipal agreement to provide a function which they are empowered to provide individually. Also, municipalities may not circumvent other legal requirements, such as public hearings or mandatory referenda, by virtue of the agreement. Most importantly, the governing body of each municipality involved must approve the agreement by a majority vote.

Issues to Consider in Intermunicipal Cooperation

Aside from legal issues, there are several "Best Practices" that emerged from the study worth mentioning. While this may seem obvious, it is not a legal requirement to have a written agreement. Other ideas to consider are:

  • a method or formula for equitably allocating resources
  • a mechanism for compensating employees and personnel
  • some provision for equipment and/or facilities
  • an agreement for handling liabilities

In addition to the above list, municipalities may want to consider incorporating some mechanism for handling fiscal arrangements, as well as monitoring and evaluation, into the agreement.

General Guidelines for Cooperation

This section of the study is perhaps the most useful because it offers advice on how best to determine whether a particular activity is suitable for intermunicipal cooperation. The guidelines proposed address issues related to conducting feasibility studies, performing needs assessments, and negotiating contracts. Several pieces of advice are conveyed during this discussion. For instance, a cost determination and comparison is suggested to determine if intermunicipal cooperation could improve an activity's efficiency and effectiveness. If a service results in reduced costs, increased efficiency, and/or fulfills a perceived need then it should be undertaken. With regard to preparing the agreement, the study concluded that, in addition to the above mentioned issues to consider, the agreement should be reviewed by the municipality's respective legal counsels. Some method for mediating disputes should also be incorporated into the agreement.


This study is extremely useful because several fundamental elements regarding intermunicipal cooperation are discussed. Some of these issues may seem obvious but clearly they are essential to ensuring a stable arrangement.