Michigan Municipal League Foundation Leads
By Arnold Weinfeld
It’s a question the Michigan Municipal League hears all the time: “How come communities aren’t cooperating more to save money?” The answer is simple: They are cooperating on important services all the time, but there is more they can do. As local governments across Michigan continue to face serious budget crises, more and more are looking to collaboration as a cost-savings measure. The League is helping communities get there in several ways, including a program called the “Shared Services Initiative.”
Before explaining this initiative, it’s important to look at some of the obstacles that prevent many local governments from further collaboration. The key obstacles are political resistance within local governments; lack of technical expertise; and difficulty financing upfront costs needed to obtain longer-term savings. Political resistance exists for several reasons, including perceived loss of control, loss of public sector jobs, and declining service levels (will the new consolidated police/fire department make it to my home in time?). The daunting cuts that local governments are now facing may be sufficient to overcome much of the political resistance to collaboration. But, many local governments do not have the in-house skills or the dollars to pay for technical assistance and planning needed to make a shared service reality.
State Invites the League In
That’s where the League can help. In late 2009, Governor Granholm invited the League to participate in a steering committee to spur cities, villages, townships, counties, schools and intermediate school districts to consolidate and share services. The committee’s charge was to develop a shared services initiative that would assist local communities in meeting critical service needs. Participants include other local government organizations such as Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Association of Counties, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, and the Citizens Research Council.
Shared Services Initiative
The state is asking the League and our Foundation to facilitate what is being called the “Shared Services Initiative.” The initiative’s aim is to find alternative ways to get the best bang for the taxpayers’ dollar. But it’s not just about saving money. Other goals are to provide better service at a reduced cost and in a faster, timelier fashion. Impossible, you say? Actually, it’s not; and if done right, it can still allow communities to maintain an individual identity while also forming partnerships between state agencies, municipal governments, school districts, and businesses.
The Foundation Takes a Lead Role
The League Foundation will assist local governments in developing their business case for collaborating and implementing the plan. We expect that much of this work will be provided by third-party consultants. The Foundation will help local governments identify what expertise is needed from third parties and will assist in contracting with these groups. While costs will vary depending on the complexity of the project, such as number of groups participating, and the type of service you’re looking to share, participating local government units will need to match funding from the Foundation.
For long-term sustainability, the Foundation will request funds from other non-profit and corporate foundations. We are also working with the state on alternative resources, such as a revolving loan fund. These resources could help with startup costs and other joint projects and operations that may sprout up as communities provide services in different ways. Michigan’s local governments are facing the most significant budget crises in our lifetime. Cooperative services between local governments is one way to achieve costs savings and help our communities maintain essential services. The Shared Services Initiative fits well with the overall mission of the League Foundation to improve municipal governance through research, education, and training of local officials.
Arnold Weinfeld is president of the Michigan Municipal League Foundation. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-908-0304.