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Miami researchers propose ways to simplify local governments

12/11/2009

The Center for Public Management and Regional Affairs (CPMRA) at Miami University after researching hundreds of Ohio townships has recommended a three-prong approach to a new state commission formed to study ways to restructure, reform and streamline local government. Townships that collaborate and combine services could save valuable resources.

The Ohio Commission on Local Government Reform and Collaboration is hoping to resolve the duplication of police forces, collaborate services, create joint fire districts and weed out inefficient governments in struggling small towns. It also could lead to revamping school districts by combining small districts and by breaking down large districts to reach an optimal number of students.

The Miami study was one of four research projects supported by a competitive grant from the Ohio commission. Faculty and student authors include Philip Russo, director, CPMRA and professor of political science; Andrew Dudas, senior project manager, CPMRA; Patrick Haney, political science professor; Mark Morris, senior project manager, CPMRA; and Heath Ingram, junior public administration major. Bethany Bowyer, senior urban and regional planning public administration major, and Deanna Watts, political science graduate assistant, provided additional assistance.

“The research was based on data from 650 elected township officials from 374 different township governments,” said Russo. “We concluded that collaboration currently is an accepted and useful arrangement among many Ohio townships, that collaboration can range from simple one-to-one contracts to elaborate agreements and that local government collaboration is progressive and can lead to additional collaboration.”

To encourage future collaboration, the authors have recommended three initiatives to the commission: continue developing mechanisms that provide financial incentives to local governments to collaborate, such as “front-end incentives”; develop educational programs for local officials and citizens that provide relevant and useable knowledge for those contemplating collaboration; and develop more statutory incentives to promote public/private partnerships, such as bringing non-governmental entities into cooperative ventures that create entrepreneurial market strategies.

Russo added, “At the end of the day, local governments feel less compelled to ‘compete interjurisdictionally’ and pursue cooperation across local boundaries under these conditions.”

The state commission is to report its findings and recommendations to the governor, State Senate president and speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives by July 1, 2010.

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