How Scott County took sharing to the next level

Minnesota’s Scott County is saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year. How? By working together.

In 2003, they launched the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency (SCALE) (www.scaleinfo.org), hoping to develop greater efficiencies, share resources, and collaborate on services. The results have been so successful that the state auditors identified SCALE as a best practice, and other regions now aspire to Scott County’s example.

We wanted to know more, so we called Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton,  who’s been working for the county in one capacity or another for nearly 40 years. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned:

What is SCALE?

“It’s about building relationships among various governmental entities, and it’s about forging new ways in which we can work together to provide the best services possible while sucking up the least amount of resources. … Citizens really don’t care which local government provides services as long as it’s delivered in the way that they believe to be the most effective.”

Gary Shelton - Scott County Administrator

They’ve figured out how to share services, equipment, communications, infrastructure, and more. Monthly meetings draw 100 to 150 people, with representatives from every township, school district, city, watershed, and even from federal congressmen and state reps.

Why?

“The impetus for it was from the county. Because resources were scarce and we were a fast-growing county … we realized that if we were going to do it right, we needed to make sure everybody worked together so we didn’t duplicate things and we didn’t worry about the control and ownership.”

Is there resistance to this kind of collaborative effort?

“It’s always about the same thing: trust, control, and ownership. People don’t like to give up control. Governments and institutions care about control and ownership. Citizens really don’t. … But you overcome it by building trust and relationships,” Shelton says. “That should always be the objective: What provides the best service at the lowest cost.”

How does your equipment sharing work?

“Every single day there is somebody borrowing equipment from somebody,” says Shelton. “So if you need a dump truck, a backhoe, a skidder, if you need a ladder truck that’s different from the ladder truck that the fire department has for something, all of those things are shared. We’ve even bought some things strategically.”

An example? Portable lights for nighttime operations are expensive. “We collectively bought two sets, and we positioned them on one side of the county and the other side of the county so when you need them they are relatively close to you, but everybody didn’t go out and buy their own. We did the same thing with (rescue) boat equipment.”

Unless you also want to use county staff for labor, the equipment sharing is free between entities. Currently, they use a SharePoint site to list equipment and contacts. They're looking at ways that will further facilitate this type of sharing.

Scott county already has a shared regional public safety training facility, and a number of strategic plans and partnerships. But you say there’s room for more?

“There’s more training that we could do together and more sharing that can be done together,” says Shelton.

“So the county, for example, just went through and upgraded our phone system. We went to a voice-over IP network, and right now only two entities are sharing that with us. But what I’m hoping is that as people need to upgrade their phones, rather than going out and buying their own, that they join our system.

“The county built fiber to every single public entity in Scott County, and we share it with them at no cost. And then we paid to connect our fiber network to the real world. So we have fiber in 11 different counties that connects us in a very resilient way to the entire world. I can document that it saves annually millions of dollars.”

A great example is the small school district of Belle Plaine. “Their school got by on 3 megabytes of broadband service because they were using two T1 lines. And today, they’re using 100 megabytes and they’re on a 10 gigabyte backbone. And yet their cost for that is 99% less than when they were on 3 megabytes because we’re actually picking that broadband service up in Minneapolis at a wholesale price and transporting it to Belle Plaine, which is about 45 miles, at no cost to them.”

Shelton has a long list of how the fiber network has fostered other types of sharing, and he sees the potential for “a zillion more things that we could do.”

You know, you’re at the forefront in terms of this type of collaborative government.

“We do have a long, long history. Even before we started SCALE in 2003, the county had quite a history of sharing,” says Shelton. “We’ve provided a single service 911 center for the county since the ’70s. All prosecution services have been funneled through one prosecuting office since 1991. It has brought the cost of prosecutorial services in this county way, way down. … We’re actually very proud of the way we have changed how business is done in Scott County. We think it’s good for all the different government entities, and that it’s really good for the citizens.”