Talk's on the upswing again, and not just in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, about trying to run local government more efficiently by consolidating. And at his media briefing today, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx gave yet another big plug to the idea, saying, "It's hard to shape community priorities when you have resources siloed."
A timely new piece on the website of UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute takes a look at what happened in 18 other city-county consolidations. The big headline? No real efficiencies were proved.
I asked Foxx today if he'd read the report, and what he thought about its findings. He said that while he believed there would be cost savings if Charlotte and Mecklenburg County governments merged, "I don't think that is the only driver." He thinks local government should be structured differently.The UNCC report is by the authors of a new book, "City-County Consolidation: Promises Made, Promises Kept?": Suzanne Leland, associate professor of political science at UNCC, and Kurt Thurmaier, director of the Division of Public Administration at Northern Illinois University.
Here's what they conclude:
• Consolidation can improve economic development
"... Consolidated governments have performed more effectively in economic development than their comparison counties. ... This is one promise the majority of consolidated governments delivered on."
• Consolidation does not necessarily lead to more efficient government
"Our study yields little systematic evidence that consolidated governments operate more efficiently than their comparison communities. While about half of the cases in our sample seem to have lower rates of expenditure growth ... the other half of the sample does not produce the same data."
• Pro-Merger Campaigns delivered on most of their promises
In most cases (not all) they write, "the evidence is quite strong that the particular promises made to voters were kept, with very few exceptions."