Ohio Municipal Consolidation: The Game!

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Chris Briem sends us to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who have created a fun map tool* that you can use to combine Cuyahoga County’s 59 municipalities into a more manageable 13.

This looks like an adorable problem when compared to the complete mess that is PA municipal government, but as Joe Frolik points out, the duplication of services there is still a significant and unnecessary waste of resources:

We can’t afford the luxury of 38 cities, 19 villages and two townships any longer. There are too many chiefs, directors, department heads, deputy commissioners and special assistants on those 59 organiza- tional charts. Too much equipment that sits idle too often. Too many mayors and councils to sign off on development deals. In short, too much government in a county that’s lost 26 percent of its population since 1970.

For a long time, the financial costs of these redundancies were masked by money from the state. But when the Kasich administration and a Republican-run General Assembly faced an $8 billion shortfall last year, they took a knife to the Local Government Fund and other revenue streams that fed municipalities.

The impact on local governments — already hit by declining income- and property-tax collections — has been severe. Public employees have been laid off and services have been curtailed. In Richmond Heights last year, cash reserves were so depleted that city officials said they were one blizzard away from insolvency. This month, voters in Shaker Heights agreed to a 28.5 percent income tax increase to raise $6 million and preserve city services. And we’re not even getting into the money issues facing public schools.

Cuyahoga County is doing its part to reduce duplication by offering a menu of municipal services to its constituent municipalities, which hopefully will result in most municipalities simply contracting with the County for their major services like police and fire, rather than administering those programs at the hyper-local level.

This is an important progressive issue because most municipalities have just been opting to cut service levels or raise taxes in response to depressed revenues from the Little Depression. The better option is to maintain service levels and look for savings by reducing duplication, sharing services and tax bases, and cutting down the number of superfluous political units.  

In PA, Harrisburg could kick off the process by passing a law saying that after 2018 or whatever, the state will no longer legally recognize any municipality with fewer than 5000 people. That would reduce the number of municipalities by 78%, while allowing individual regions to decide how best to combine political jurisdictions.

*Can we get computer whizkid Andrew McGill at the PG to make a similar map tool for Allegheny County or something?

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