Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Progress on Regionalization

Last Sunday's Boston Globe carried two interesting articles about an idea that I have discussed on this blog previously. The first describes efforts to eliminate tiny "towns" that were created for questionable purposes, such as Green Hills, Pennsylvania, an enclave of another town, created in 1978 for the sole purpose of allowing alcohol sales at a golf course. More generally, the article mentions efforts to consolidate small towns in Pennsylvania (which has 2,652 boroughs), Ohio, and Indiana (with 1,008 township governments).

Reading this, I was discouraged by this evidence that Massachusetts has failed to address the problems of waste and redundancy created by the "illusion of local control." I was delighted, then, to see that Gov. Patrick's efforts to regionalize services are beginning to bear fruit, if only gradually. "The Push is on to Share Dispatchers" mentions several towns south of Boston that have taken advantage of administration incentives to study dispatch centers that would serve multiple towns, increasing the number of police officers and fire fighters that can be kept on duty with the same funds.

Unfortunately, as the second article mentions, county government in Massachusetts has all but disappeared; it would be the most logical scale for organizing many -- if not most -- of the services currently administered by towns. The savings in overhead -- both equipment and personnel -- could then be devoted not only to more firefighters and police officers, but also to more teachers, librarians, senior-center staff, highway workers, animal-control officers, health inspectors, and so on. Currently, Massachusetts spends less than it should on such public servants and more than it should on their supervisors. Moreover, some sectors of state government are bloated simply by the need for staff to interact with scores -- even hundreds -- of departments where only a couple dozen are needed.

Congratulations to Gov. Patrick and Lt. Gov. Murray for the small successes they have had so far. As I have detailed in my previous regionalization posts, we still have a long way to go!

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