Regionalization – The Future of Urban Areas?
Pennsylvania has a rather dubious distinction: it has the third most governments in the entire United States. When you factor in governments at every level (state, county, municipality & school district), Pennsylvania has 3,135 governments. That is the 2nd highest rate of governments per capita in the entire United States, behind only Illinois. Wow.
So why is this a bad thing? Don’t small governments ensure that elected officials are close to their citizens and government is responsive? Of course. That is absolutely an outstanding benefit of living in Pennsylvania. By living in this Commonwealth, you are virtually guaranteed that an elected official lives somewhere nearby. This gives the average resident access to their governments at all time.
The problem, unfortunately, is that this massive level of governments creates an environment whereby tax payer money is often wasted. This occurs in many ways. Separate municipalities make separate purchases, thereby denying them the opportunity to make larger purchases together at lower prices. Staff in separate municipalities could easily be merged at a savings to tax payers. A lack of regionalization at a zoning and planning level often leads to inefficient use of land, damaging the wallets of residents, the urban areas that we many call home and the environment that we all share. A lack of regionalization also prevents government from acting in regards to areas of vital importance, including public safety and health.
Why is regionalization such a good thing for urban areas? Urban areas (cities and boroughs alike) often have very similar functions – police, fire, community & economic development, maintenance, etc. – that townships and rural areas don’t have. Given their comparatively condensed nature, urban areas can have a much easier time meshing departments (like police and fire) together. State policy specifically encourages this type of regionalization through grants, like with the Regional Police Assistance Grant Program and Shared Municipal Services Program. Furthermore, urban areas are often in tougher financial positions than their rural/suburban counterparts. Accordingly, the need to save money is particularly important.
One important caveat: no one is talking about merging two municipalities together. Such a proposal is usually overly ambitious and will go against the will of the people that elected officials have to represent. What is talked about more often is a regionalization of services, like police and fire. Doing so will likely save taxpayers money, while still allowing each municipality to maintain a joint identity.