With the ongoing ramifications of the national economic slump, both our city and county governments are trying to find solutions to budget crises that will likely take several years to address at best.
So what kind of “real” solutions can help us out of our spending obligations, some of which Alderwoman Karen Young correctly assesses as “unsustainable.”
Like it or not, our local governments are faced with making serious and fundamental changes in how they serve our community. These crises are real and deep. And if we don’t “think out of the box,” the end result will very likely be significant losses in funding for many critical community programs and more.
All this got me to dust off an idea that Donald Linton and I discussed nearly 30 years ago at a cocktail party.
Here”s the question: Why not merge our city and county governments into one body?
Now before your blow this off as a wacky idea, consider that a number of cities around the county have successfully accomplished this daring feat: Jacksonville and Duvall County, Fla.; Lexington and Fayette County, Ky.; Indianapolis and Marion County, Ind.; Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn.; and Columbus and Muskogee County, Ga.
Before I get to how it can be done, here are four reasons why I think it should be seriously considered:
– City residents pay for a duplication of services in multiple departments — water and sewer, planning and zoning, economic development and roads, just to name a few.
– While Frederick County ranks 23rd lowest out of the 200 taxing jurisdictions in Maryland, the City of Frederick hovers at the 50 percent mark.
– The city and the county have rarely found much to agree upon in the last 20 years. Often they don”t even speak. When it comes to comprehensive planning for the entire county, you would think the two bodies would communicate, and maybe find things to agree upon in the best interest of all Frederick County residents and businesses. Lately, it is not that the newly elected city official haven”t tried, but their counterparts at the county have a history of not offering any mutual respect.
– In my line of work, I speak to and work with all aspects of the business community, and the reoccurring message I get is that the city is business-friendly and the county is not.
With all that said, it has always been my belief that residents and businesses of the city pay too much for the privilege to live and work there compared with those in the county. So if the two entities could find a method to combine, consolidate or merge services between these two jurisdictions, a lot of money could be saved and likely passed back to city, and maybe even county, residents.
Comprehensive planning and zoning can be addressed in a truly comprehensive and collaborative approach without leaving out the hole in the doughnut.
In addition, when consolidations like this occur, they often give the new government entity a stronger and much more unified voice at the state level — more clout. Bond ratings and borrowing capacity often improve along with an improved business climate, which in the end builds a stronger local economy.
The how part is accomplished through one of three ways: annexation, merging of two or more jurisdictions, or the formation of a cooperating entity. The best method to get there is up to the willingness of our elected officials to direct the right people to find the right fit.
As in the case of forming a charter government, our political leaders have got to “step out of their comfortable boxes” by maybe even sacrificing the power of their elected positions for the benefit of creating a governing structure that is in tune with the changing times.
Rocky Mackintosh resides in Adamstown and contributes to the MacRo Report Blog.