NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 15, 2005

Small towns in Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and other states are trimming costs by combining police and fire departments, school districts and other agencies in a new wave of government consolidation.

The moves mainly involve briskly growing suburban communities whose boundaries bump up against neighboring towns that provide the same services with their own tax dollars. Others are small rural towns that can no longer afford separate police, fire and school districts.

Among the consolidations:

  • Richland Township, a community of 10,500 north of Pittsburgh, and three nearby townships are creating a regional police force with 30 full-time officers; the effort could save Richland more than $100,000 a year.
  • Chelmsford, Mass., a town of 34,000 near Boston, is mulling a merger of its fire stations, elementary schools and other government functions to ease a budget shortfall of more than $3 million.
  • On Florida's Anna Maria Island, an affluent getaway of about 8,300 south of Tampa that has seen spectacular growth, three towns -- Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach -- are contemplating a unified government.

Since the 1960s, about 100 proposals for wholesale city-county consolidations have been put to voters across the nation, according to the National League of Cities. Only about one-quarter of those measures passed. The number of communities that have pursued smaller unions, such as combining police departments, is more difficult to gauge.

The pressure for consolidation often comes when there are real fiscal constraints, says Donald Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, but there has to be strong political will on the part of citizens and leadership to do it.

Source: Theodore Kim, "Towns consolidating government services," USA Today, December 15, 2005.


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