Approaches to Consolidating Local Government Services
Report #354, November 2008
The weakness of Michigan’s economy, which has translated into fiscal and operational pressures on local governments, has created a renewed interest in consolidation of governments and governmental services. Consolidating governmental units and/or functions and services can reduce the cost of government by capitalizing on economies of scale.
Short of full governmental consolidation, consolidation of governmental functions and services through intergovernmental collaboration allows local government officials to avoid duplication, benefit from economies of scale and economies of skill, and increase the level of services above that which is possible if the services are provided independently. Intergovernmental collaboration can take the form of governmental units contracting with other units to provide services, two or more governmental units working together to jointly provide services, or the formal creation of special authorities with independent powers to tax, bond, spend money, acquire property, and in some cases, condemn property.
Many local government officials already recognize intergovernmental collaboration as an alternative method for delivering governmental service. Despite the state’s strong home rule traditions and lack of strong state mandates or incentives for collaborating, significant numbers of local governments currently collaborate to provide such services as fire protection, libraries, water and sewer, emergency dispatch, animal control, police crime labs, emergency planning, public transit, well and septic permitting, watershed management, and many others.
Leaders of local governments that do not currently make heavy use of intergovernmental collaboration still tend to recognize its value and may hope to use it in the future. However, it can be difficult to decide which services to provide through collaboration and which neighboring governments to approach about collaborating for the provision of that service.
In 2005, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan catalogued the service delivery methods of local governments. Analysis of survey data indicates that patterns exist among the governmental units that collaborate for the provision of services and among the types of functions/services provided collaboratively. Whether those patterns exist by design or by chance, they show that local governments cooperate heavily for the provision of some services and with the state and county governments for the provision of others.
The Catalog identifies the services that are provided in each municipality and the methods used to provide those services (independent, collaboratively with neighboring municipalities, working with the state or county, via a private provider, etc.). It does not attempt to identify motives for employing each service delivery method or savings that result from the delivery methods chosen.