Illinois is examining potential mergers among the state's 7,000 local governments, but more than a dozen communities have beaten legislators to the punch.

Formed a year and a half ago, the Northern Illinois Municipal Partnership Initiative jointly awards contracts for capital projects and professional services. Together, the communities offer more work than each would individually, increasing the likelihood of volume discounts and other collective savings. Contractors submit a single bid, saving time and money they pass along to the communities.

“We've saved about $30,000 on road resurfacing,” says Jennifer Hughes, PE, CFM, public works director/village engineer for the Village of Lincolnshire. In addition to resurfacing, the village has jointly awarded crack sealing and pavement testing contracts; and is looking at emergency utility repairs, cold patch purchasing, tree planting, janitorial services, generator testing, and maintenance.

Another benefit: The village, which has had to downsize in recent years, taps into the expertise of neighboring public works and other government agency professionals.

“We've asked remaining personnel to take on activities that may not have been within the scope of their training,” Hughes explains. “By going through the partnering process, our people can talk to the people who do the same tasks in another community.

“We review each other's specifications. We learn from them and they learn from us. Most tasks aren't that different from community to community in a region, and each of us has a niche we excel at.”

Sharing and comparing institutional knowledge also increases efficiencies.

“We can see if someone has a better way of doing things. Then we can make adjustments.”

Some contracts require an intergovernmental agreement (IGA), but most don't. In such instances one community serves as the lead, scheduling meetings of interested parties and drafting a preliminary contract. Each participating community then reviews the contract and specifications, and develops required quantities, before it goes out to bid.

The lead agency unseals the bids, but each individual community signs the contract with the winning bidder. The contract period is usually for one year, but there are often options for one- or two-year extensions. Specifications include time-windows during which the contractor is required to complete the work, but typically these windows are less restricted through the partnership process.

“Giving up a little control in scheduling helps in keeping the price low,” explains Hughes.

Lincolnshire also participates in the Northwest Municipal Conference's annual vehicle auction; the State of Illinois' Central Purchasing Group's road salt contract; and the GIS Consortium, a group of small- to medium-sized communities that jointly contract consulting services.