Citizens Research Council of Michigan identifies ways counties can help improve services, quality of life and efficiencies in local government

Michigan counties providing certain services in a more efficient way could be the regional approach needed to help local city, village and township governments balance their budgets and better serve their residents according to a report issued by Citizens Research Council, Counties in Michigan: An Exercise in Regional Government.

“By shifting the delivery of some services to the county level, local governments would be able to concentrate their resources and services to create more attractive and safer communities for current and future residents,” said Citizens Research Council President Eric Lupher.

The report finds that a more regional approach to local government service delivery may improve the efficiency and economics of local government and may provide both service and revenue side benefits to county and municipal governments. Any regional approach needs to take into account that while all Michigan counties provide a set of mandated services, the residents they serve and the degree to which local governments are providing services varies greatly around the state.

“Citizens Research Council is not advocating a one-size-fits-all solution to regional government in Michigan,” said Lupher. “Rather, we found that a shift to thinking of local government more in terms of the region and what county governments can do to support local communities can benefit all.”

Counties, as a regional form of government, are well suited to serving in a support role for local governments, performing back office functions that rarely affect the services provided but are necessary for the business operations of those governments. They also can provide services to residents of smaller municipalities and partner with larger municipalities to maximize the economies of scale. Shifting more local government services to the county level would free up local resources to better provide the vital services that remain with cities, villages, and townships.

This is not a prescription for wholesale law changes to redirect responsibilities. Citizens Research Council, through years of research into local government service delivery, has identified a number of services that counties could play a bigger role in providing. For example, counties could provide information technology, administrative support, tax collection, public transportation, road maintenance and property assessments among others. These could and should vary by county depending on local needs.

Some basic issues in county governance, resources, and service delivery need to be addressed for this shift to be successful. Counties could also benefit from modernizing their government structures including using county executives as leaders and collaborators within their counties.

For such a change to occur, counties will require resources to meet additional needs. These could come from new local-option taxes and/or by expanding state revenue sharing to counties in ways that directs funding to those with the least ability to raise funding from their own resources.

Additionally, county government elected officials and administrators need to change their mindset from one of a stand-alone county government and simple provider of some state mandated and local services, to one of a provider of services to their local municipalities and serving as a regional unifier.

CRC’s report is available at no cost on the Citizens Research Council’s website, www.crcmich.org.

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