No grass-roots for govn't consolidation

Last week, I drew attention to a memo from Eric Scorsone regarding the potential cost savings from consolidating local governments and services. My takeaway from the memo was that consolidation is not the big kahuna if your goal is simply to save money. The issue is far too nuanced for one single policy change to yield maximal results.

Tom Ivacko and the team down at the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at U-M noticed the post and shared some data from their own surveys of the views of people in the trenches of local government: your public servants.

Among the findings relevant to the Scorsone memo:

* "CLOSUP’s Michigan Public Policy Survey asked Michigan’s local government leaders a series of questions about full government consolidations. The first question was whether or not the local leader thinks there are too many local governments in Michigan today.  Overall, 29 percent of local leaders agree that there are too many local governments, while 61 percent disagree.

County and city leaders are much more likely than township or village leaders to say there are too many units. Big differences exist by community size as well.  Only 23 percent of leaders from the smallest jurisdictions think there are too many local governments, compared to 68 percent of leaders from the largest jurisdictions. And by region, leaders from the state’s southern governments, especially in the Southeast region, are more likely than leaders from other regions to think there are too many local governments today."

* "When asked if a majority of their local legislative body (i.e., city council, county and township boards, etc.) would support consolidating their jurisdiction with another unit if it would lead to significant cost savings, only 14 percent of local leaders answer 'yes.' Meanwhile, 73 percent of local leaders say a majority of their board or council would oppose such consolidation."

The second point is the whopper: Only 14 percent of the local officials believe their elected bodies would go for consolidation -- even if told it would lead to significant cost savings.

The policy lesson: Any serious reduction in the number of local governments in Michigan -- if that is your goal -- will be the result of a diktat from the Legislature and governor. This will not be an organic, grass-roots effort to thin the governmental ranks.


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Wed, 09/28/2011 - 10:05am
Thanks Derek for writing on this topic. The differences of opinion come from the fact that consolidation isn't just about saving money. Saving money or lowering the cost doesn't prove out for consolidation of most local units of government. Like you say some of the larger units want to get larger by taking in some smaller units. Why? Who has the debts to pay? The larger units. They need more income with which to pay their bills. While some functions of government might be cost effective at a higher level of government. Other functions would be more costly. No unions and little in benefits (if any) in smaller rural units of government. This is a topic that really needs to be studied more before implementating this even if by the state government. Is it really the cost or is it simply centralized control?