WILKES-BARRE – Sharing services between the city and other municipalities is just talk at this point, but it's been under way on the West Side for a while.
Wilkes-Barre Councilman Bill Barrett raised the issue of partnering with neighboring communities, something the former city police chief said he's looked at before.
The topic, introduced at council's work session Tuesday night, was timely given the layoffs of 11 firefighters and other employees as a result of the city's financial problems.
It grew out of discussions with representatives of the Pennsylvania Municipal League who met with city officials, Barrett said Wednesday.
I don't think it's unreasonable to think about this, Barrett said.
Municipalities throughout Luzerne County provide fire, police, public works and emergency services to residents.
Everyone's doing it differently, he said.
Partnerships are a way to provide better services to residents at a lower cost, he added.
It also allows municipalities to sustain services they can't afford on their own, said Kingston Administrator Paul Keating.
We're basically in three phases of cooperation with our neighbors, Keating said.
Kingston has a contract to provide police services to Pringle. Pringle pays Kingston $62,593 for the services.
It also has a functional consolidation of firefighting with Forty Fort, Keating said. Each department maintains its identity and works together.
Kingston has 29 full-time firefighters, the result of combining its 24 firefighters with five from Forty Fort.
The arrangement ensures there are two paramedics on the two ambulances operating around the clock.
Kingston received an ambulance and two firefighting apparatus as well.
Forty Fort was experiencing difficulty in staffing volunteer ambulance crews, Keating said.
Forty Fort contributes to the nearly $68,000 it costs a year for one of the 29 employees, Keating said.
The neighboring municipalities share Forty Fort's building inspector.
When Kingston's inspector retired, the municipality did not fill the position and instead hired two part-time code enforcement officers.
A common misconception about regionalization efforts, such as the ones involving Kingston, is that they are solely a mechanism to save money, Keating said.
But he said he viewed them as a mechanism to sustain services in a more efficient manner that saves money.
Alone Kingston could not afford the $400,000 it cost to acquire a tub grinder used in composting. But with Exeter, West Wyoming and Jackson Township it applied for and received a state grant for the machine that is moved between the municipalities. They share the cost of transportation and insurance.
Most of the time what derails any effort to regionalize, any effort to consolidate is politics and personnel, Keating said.
No one from Wilkes-Barre has reached out to Kingston, he said and he doubted whether sharing a service such as firefighting would work because of the natural boundary of the Susquehanna River between the communities.
Still, he said there are opportunities on the East Side for the city to explore.