Saturday, October 13, 2012

Municipal Consolidation continued

Over the years, bills introduced into the hoppers of the PA General Assembly concerning municipal boundaries and consolidation have recast a spotlight on the issue. Each time they generate much needed discussion. Unfortunately, arguments continue to be sterile, dwelling upon only the purported costs of government and its operations.
They always appear to stem from the premise that bigger is better. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. It all depends upon the constituencies that comprise the entire municipality or district.
Consolidation may well mean cost savings if done smartly. And few would argue that maintaining or even lowering tax bills is clearly a plus. But I would argue that making governments better is at least as important. Better governments start with better elected officials, officials who work together for common goals obtained through common methods. It starts with planning, short term and long term, planning that exceeds both the terms of office and all too often the mental horizons of politicians.
In general, the planning commissions of our local governments in southern York County are not prized by the governing bodies. In some places they are merely tolerated, in others created merely to be puppets of the elected officials.
The next time you vote in a local election, try to find out if your candidate believes in planning, preferably by independent planners.

The public discussions so far involve only the quantifiable costs, the costs document in black and why in yearly budgets, summaries and the cursory audits done on PA municipalities every year.
The hidden costs are substantial and usually undocumented, since they occur under the radar of government and media watchdogs. As a result the voters remain uninformed about them. It’s not unusual for the officials themselves to overlook these peculiar factors, which affect the costs and effectiveness of the governments in which they are pledged to fiduciary safeguarding.
Volunteerism is a key reason local governments appear to run more cheaply than cities and counties. Volunteers have staffed many governmental functions such as fire and ambulance, while at the same time working raise private capital for their equipment and buildings. But, daytime ambulance crews are increasingly paid since potential volunteers are working elsewhere during the day. This problem is now hitting fire departments also.
Those planning commissions, zoning boards, and (if you’re lucky) other committees such as regional planning commissions and environmental advisory boards, are staffed with volunteers. They might be reimbursed for their expenses, but they take no salaries and require no benefits such as health insurance or retirement funding.
You’d think that this cadre of volunteers would be universally indulged but you’d be wrong. They are often badgered, humiliated and ignored by officials who regard more as nuisances, or even competitors, than the corps of interested, talented and knowledgeable citizens that they really are.
Next: Some largely unnoticed costs of government

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