WSW: Is It Time For A New Local Government Structure?

Apr 16, 2017

Credit WMUK

Citizens Research Council of Michigan President Eric Lupher says there’s little appetite for eliminating local units of government in Michigan. But he says there is still a chance for reforming government services.


The Citizens Research Council has released a new report - Counties in Michigan: An Exercise in Regional Government. Lupher says in the 30 years he’s been analyzing state and local government operations, he’s heard two constant complaints – Michigan has too many units of local government, and that they don’t operate a like a business. Lupher says there have been several proposals to eliminate or consolidate local units of government, that have been rejected, including Saugatuck and Douglas in 2013. So Lupher says the report asks “what if we just blew up the way we’re thinking about local governments, and created a new structure?”     

Lupher says larger businesses and franchises handle a lot of back office functions, so that individual store fronts don’t have too. He says under this model, counties could provide services for public health and safety. Lupher says that would allow cities and townships to focus on making their communities attractive places to live and work. He says handling services at the county level would create economies of scale. Lupher says with some changes in law, counties could also levy different types of taxes. He says it would be simpler to administer those taxes at the county level, rather than by individual cities and townships.

Although, he suggests starting with “back office” services like human resources and accounting, Lupher says no service is too important that it can’t be reformed, and no government is too big to participate. He says a countywide police department could be staffed according to population with more patrols in larger cities and fewer in rural areas. Lupher says money could be saved on the back office operations with consolidated dispatch, and by centralizing specialized services.

For changes to happen, Lupher says the governing structure of counties would likely have to change. He says it’s important to have somebody in charge, although maybe not necessary for all counties to have an elected executive. But Lupher says it’s time to modernize and do things differently.

Lupher says there aren’t many ideas in the Citizens Research Council report that haven’t been proposed before. He says in the past local governments have been resistant to that change. But Lupher says local governments have not completely recovered from the big drop in property values and the property taxes that come with them after the recession in 2007. He says reaction to the report so far has been positive, although the devil may remain in the details. Lupher says it may be a sign that local government leaders are willing to consider new ideas.