Collaboration: Don't rush the process 2011.12.14

Written by David Green.

The big word among Michigan government units and school districts these days is “collaboration.” That’s due to efforts by Governor Rick Snyder to eliminate duplicated services.

If, for example, the City of Morenci spends money for something that Medina Township also pays for, perhaps the two units of government could work together to cut costs.

Several Lenawee County school districts, including Morenci, are exploring ways to work together to save money and increase services. The ultimate collaboration for schools, in the eyes of some politicians and policy makers, is consolidation. Simply close down one school and have it join with another. Duplicated services will be eliminated—along with an important part of the community.

We aren’t saying the governor’s efforts aren’t worthy of exploring. There are many ways that collaborations can work well. Both the local school district and the City of Morenci and its various agencies have taken on collaborative efforts for years. Some have worked well; others have fallen by the wayside.

However, we do see some misguided visions with the call to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.

For one thing, collaboration doesn’t always lead to a savings. For example,  a proposal to form a county library district was discussed recently in Adrian. If Morenci’s Stair Public Library were to become part of a county-wide system, the city could reduce expenditures by about $90,000.

That might be good in the governor’s eyes, but what about for taxpayers? Would the city respond by lowering everyone’s tax bill? Not likely, but taxpayers would end up paying an additional millage to support the county-wide library system. Government gains; the taxpayer loses.

The other potential problem with collaboration comes through a loss in services. If the Morenci Police Department were abolished—an enormous savings in city expenditures—and instead local law enforcement were handled through the county sheriff’s department, could coverage really be delivered with less money? No, it couldn’t be done while maintaining the existing level of service. Yes, it could happen along with  large cuts in police service.

Communities across the state are in a race to find collaborative efforts to report to the Governor’s office. Fulfilling requirements of the Economic Vitality Incentive Program must be done in order to receive full state funding.

It’s certainly worthy of governments’ time to explore ways of working together, but collaborations should first pass a taxpayers’ test: Will it actually save money? Will it result in a loss of services?

Politicians must remember “economic vitality” at the local level as well as in Lansing.

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