Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Consolidation push?

I've been hearing talk about consolidation for years. I think there's places for it, although other times it isn't the solution. The biggest consolidation projects are those like has been done in Nashville, Louisville, and Indianapolis where there is a largely city-county government merger. Apparently, there's some serious talk about that in the Grand Rapids area. I'm not in West Michigan, so I can't really comment on whether it be good or bad. I'm almost two hours from Grand Rapids.

The article lead to former Argus reporter Maria Stuart posting this at her Livingstontalk blog.

....Consider that in Livingston County we are supporting 16 townships, two cities, two villages, six school districts (including our Livingston Educational Service Agency) and one county government, in addition to our road commission, EMS service and various fire departments. Each and every one of these units of government has its own governing body, too.

If you count school districts that cross into Livingston County, there are actually 15 school districts in this county. The Livingston based districts are Brighton, Howell, Hartland, Fowlerville, and Pinckney. The others are based in the other counties. Several townships have multiple school district boundaries. All except Hartland have at least two, and most have three, with two having four.

Conway - Mostly Fowlerville, some Morrice (Shiawassee) and Webberville (Ingham).
Cohoctah - Divided almost equally between Fowlerville, Howell, and Byron (Shiawassee)
Handy - Mostly Fowlerville, some Webberville and Howell.
Howell Twp - Mostly Howell, some Fowlerville
Iosco - Mostly Fowlerville, some Howell, some Stockbridge (Ingham)
Marion - Mostly Howell, some Pinckney
Unadilla - Mostly Stockbridge, some Pinckney and Fowlerville
Putnam - Mostly Pinckney, some Howell
Hamburg - Mostly Pinckney, some Brighton and Whitmore Lake (Washtenaw)
Green Oak - Mostly Brighton, some Whitmore Lake (Washtenaw) and South Lyon (Oakland)
Genoa - Mostly Howell, some Hartland and Brighton
Brighton Twp - Mostly Brighton, some Howell, some Hartland, some Huron Valley (Oakland)
Hartland - All in Hartland
Oceola - Mostly Howell, some Hartland.
Deerfield - Howell, Hartland, Byron, and Linden (Genesee)
Tyrone - Hartland, Fenton (Genesee), and Linden.

That's a lot of school districts for an area of less than 300K, and probably less than 250K (Livingston County and districts in other counties). However, it would be a logistics nightmare to consolidate a county wide school district area when you factor the other county based school districts. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it will be a real pain, especially in Green Oak and the Fenton/Linden areas where a significant population is outside the LISD zone.

Think, too, why we need so many fire departments and so many police departments. If there is an inspiration for consolidation of emergency services, it should be Livingston County EMS, which works throughout the entire community so well.

Police and (to a lesser extent) fire get trickier. We have "fire authorities" and some regionalism with the fire departments. Genoa contracts with Brighton. Green Oak and Hamburg have their own. With police though, I'm a little more hesitant to support consolidation. I do not want big city style or revenue enhancement suburban style of policing out here. I damn well don't want East Lansing PD east out here, which is my concern. I've never had an issue or complaint about Green Oak PD here or Howell (City) PD when I lived there. (Genoa didn't have PD). Maria does have a point though.

I don’t mean to say that our various units of government have operated without cooperating with each other. There are some great examples of cooperative ventures in our community.

That said, these are treacherous times for our community, and the success of our future demands that we consider throwing out the government-as-usual model.

I agree, but if there is consolidation, it has to be done right. Grand Rapids is a city of about 190K in Kent County (700K). There's a much more regional atmosphere out there than in the Detroit area. That region wants to consider itself a big name as the leaders of Michigan and make West Michigan as big in prestige as what people think of Michigan right now - Detroit area. It's a different mentality.

The other thing with consolidation or getting rid of townships. Some people don't want to live in cities. They don't want the higher taxes, or even city services. My parents live on a dirt road with no sewers, no city water, and even no cable access. That's fine by them. Dirt roads keep traffic down and sewers and water bills are no fun. Direct TV is better than cable and its taxes/franchise fees anyway.

This is a tough issue, and one that is in a way the 800lb elephant in the room, particularly with revenue sharing being a big issue every budgetary season. On one hand, government is best when it is closest to the people. On the other, when you have somewhere around 16 townships in each county and all the school districts, with their managers, supervisors, superintendents, admin staff, and all that goes with it, it adds up. That's too many.

Would I support forced annexation of the cities/village to their in county Post Office Address boundaries if applicable (Okemos and Whitmore Lake aren't cities or villages)? No way - at least in Livingston County. While it's needed to a degree in Lansing (city/Twp) and Ann Arbor (City/Twp) with its highly irregular township boundaries/islands surrounded by city, it wouldn't be desirable here. Would I support townships becoming largely incorporated county government like it is in large parts of the US? I'd be more apt to consider and support that. What I think would be best is somewhat of a middle ground where some townships merge until there's a population minimum. That would cut most of the townships down in this state, while still preserving a lot of established township governments where there is a significant population.

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