ESSEX — The Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston will advise the towns of Manchester and Essex during their initial regionalization talks.

Bob Halpin, senior associate at the center, and Michael Ward, its director of municipal services, will work with the two towns to find best practice measures in sharing equipment and personnel. The study will take six months to complete. Halpin and Ward will also assist both towns in preparing any early regionalization proposals for their town meetings in spring.

Essex Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said the contract will be signed within the next week or two. He recently sent back their scope of services agreement with a few minor alterations before its finalization.

"I like the Collins Center because they have experience with this sort of thing and they're more generalist," he said at the joint meeting of Manchester and Essex selectmen on Monday, "A lot of the private firms we looked at were only specialists in one certain area."

Manchester Selectmen Chairwoman Susan Beckmann suggested the two towns hold a public forum to educate the public on this new partnership, how the consultants will conduct their work, and provide an outline about the main course of work.   

"The meeting is an opportunity to bring people together and start the conversation early on in the process," she said. "We are committed to give the public the opportunity to provide input on the project." 

Zubricki offered to book the meeting in the third-floor conference room at Essex Town Hall. Nothing had been officially scheduled at press time but Beckmann said she is looking to have the meeting "as soon as possible."

Manchester and Essex selectmen expressed interest in regionalizing their public safety and public works departments at their first joint meeting on the topic in November.

Money to hire services from the Collins Center comes from a $25,000 community compact with Essex. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito signed off on the compact at a public meeting held at Essex Town Hall on Dec. 13.  

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.