Town leaders and elected officials from Durham and Middlefield met with school officials Monday night ahead of what is expected to be another difficult budget season to talk about possible future combined efforts that could slow rising operating costs.
Much of the public meeting, which was held at although no members of the public were in attendance, focused on the idea of creating one Internet Technology (IT) department to serve the towns and the school district.
"This is a road that we're on, we're not getting off of I don't think and costs are going to continue to escalate," Durham First Selectman Laura Francis said. "I don't think this is going to be a money saving collaboration but I think there's potential for us to slow down, as I said, the escalation of the rising cost of IT and perhaps give us more capacity."
While IT needs vary among the towns and the school district, First Selectman Jon Brayshaw admitted that Middlefield's "hodge podge" system is antiquated.
"When the smoke starts coming up out of it then we run to the store and buy something, plug it in and get going. So we have no regular inteligent system for replacement," he said.
Superintendent Susan Viccaro said collaborating would give the three groups "buying power" by allowing them to purchase items such as equipment, software and hardware licensing and off-site storage in larger numbers and therfore at a lower cost.
Francis told the group that some towns had already had success in combining IT departments, including Mansfield and Enfield.
"I think it makes perfect sense in concept, I just think the reality of doing it is a challenge," said Board of Education member Kerrie Flanagan who suggested that a consultant be brought in to look at what efficiencies might be possible.
After many in the group agreed that a cost benefit analysis would be beneficial, Francis and Brayshaw said they planned to look into whether the towns had money in the budget to pay for such an expense.
Board of Education member Robert Fulton said officials should also consider what future administrative challenges might result from combining resources.
"If we're talking about shared employee structure, than there's a whole series of questions about lines of authority and responsibility and who reports to who," Fulton said.
Following the discussion over IT, officials highlighted several shared programs offered by the towns and the school district that have been successful.
The programs include a new "Go You" wellness initiative that is being funded by Cigna and encourages town and school district employees to take control of their health in hopes of reducing future health care costs.
Francis said is in the process of applying for a five-year, $625,000 Drug Free Community grant.
"They're doing a great job." Viccaro said of DMYFS. "They're serving a lot of kids and a lot parents."
More than 30 local teens have been given a chance to work, Francis said, through the towns' youth employment program, which is funded by the Workforce Alliance and will again be offered this summer.
"We're just learning about sharing," Brayshaw said.