Friday, November 05, 2010

North Fulton cities share staff, cut costs.

By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

While some voters bemoan the growth of government, several north Fulton cities are trimming departments by sharing employees and equipment.

The latest example is an agreement between Milton and Johns Creek to share costs for technology specialists.

The contract signed this week is expected to save the cities about $130,000 combined and will settle a friendly battle between the two young cities for qualified technicians.

At the time of their incorporation several years ago, both cities used a private firm, CH2M Hill, to provide IT and most other municipal services. As they weanedthemselves from CH2M Hill, both cities shopped the company's ranks for employees to staff their own IT departments.

"We employed one of their stars when we started to do our transition," said Milton City Manager Chris Lagerbloom. "Frankly, Johns Creek wanted him bad enough they decided to pay more for him than I could pay for him."

Neither city needed a full-time GIS technician, so rather than keep raising the ante, they struck a deal.

The new agreement allows both cities to share IT specialists and an expert in geospatial information systems, which merges cartography, statistical analysis and database technology.

"Really, what I need is about .5 of a person," Lagerbloom said. "Johns Creek needs somebody half-time as well."

In addition, Milton will also reduce its costs for IT personnel from two full-time employees to 1.2.

Lagerbloom estimates the city will save about $48,000 annually because of the agreement. Moreover, Milton will now have access to more IT support from more technicians.

For its part, Johns Creek expects to save about $80,000 annually through the agreement.

City Manager John Kachmar said each city maintains its own equipment, but the cost of labor has been reduced.

"It's not normal government," Kachmar said, "but in these times today you've got to think not-normal government if you want to save money."

Johns Creek also shares the cost of a 911 system with Sandy Springs. Both cities are still subsidizing the service because revenue, in the way of phone surcharges, hasdried up during the recession.

But by sharing the cost, Kachmar said, Johns Creek saves about $1 million a year.

Moreover, officials in Dunwoody are considering leaving DeKalb 911 and joining the system. If that happens, Kachmar said, the costs would fall even more.

For its part, Milton has established an automatic aid agreement with Alpharetta which essentially erases the borders for fire protection. Milton stations one of its fire trucks in Alpharetta because it is closer to certain sections of the city than any of its own stations. The arrangement reduces the number of stations both cities must build near their town limits.

The savings add up over time, Lagerbloom said.

"When you start to figure out what Milton will save over the long term, sustained good relationships and sustained services, that number gets a whole lot more impressive," he said.

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