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Thread: Adjacent cities and consolidation

  1. #1
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    Adjacent cities and consolidation

    In Michigan, it is not uncommon to have cities with boundaries adjacent to eachother. In the larger metro areas, the metro is made up of a quiltwork of cities, even with a city inside another city (Highland Park in Detroit).

    In addition, there are charter townships, which are a sort of proto-city, and are created in most cases because a city cannot annex territory without the consent of the charter township.

    This high number of jurisdictions leads to a duplication of services, or perhaps better said, multiple small scale service providers. In many cases there would be cost savings by combining service providers in larger jurisdictions.

    Some say that small jurisdictions provide better service because they are closer to the voters, for example, some have suggested breaking up the city of Detroit into smaller pieces to create smaller jurisdictions that respond to the needs of the citizens better.

    One of the effects of this patchwork of jurisdictions is that property tax revenues are held within jurisdictions with high property values, and a low value area does not benefit from an adjacent high value area, which may be very close geographically. So when blight hits a jurisdiction, it is hard for that jurisdiction to break out by making improvements from general fund dollars (which come mostly from property tax).

    Another effect is that ethnic groups sometimes tend to congregate in jurisdictions, and rather than a melting pot, it leads to an apartheid situation that is exacerbated by local politics being completely controlled by politicians of a certain ethnic group.

    I am wondering if those outside of Michigan have a preference toward municipal services provided by larger jurisdictions, or is local home rule by smaller jurisdictions a better way to keep the services focused on the needs of the citizen?

  2. #2

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    I'm a little familiar with Michigan, having grown up there (but not worked there), and I think municipal fragmentation there has hurt more than it's helped.

    I think Louisville, KY may have been the last city to merge with its surrounding county, and others like Pittsburgh, PA are considering it.

    Also, I've often thought that in hyper-fragmented areas like Chicago, with 270+ incorporated municipalities in the 6-county metro area, it would make sense for several suburbs to consolidate for better and cheaper service provision. But they'll never want to give up that autonomy.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Caution, I am doing this from memeory of urban history classes and watching the news the last few years, the dates may be off a bit.

    I'll point you to the "centre of the universe", Toronto. It has undergone 3 major consolidations in the past 50 years. The first in the 50's took in 11 municipalities to form what people now tradionally think of as Toronto. One of th epurposes of this was to provide region services and to aid in cooperation for a then regional transit service. Many of the "smaller" places were actually in better shape financially than the City proper.

    The next amalgamation happended in the 80's (pretty sure). It created "metro" Toronto as a overseer of the City plus the adjacent suburbs. Services and growth was once again the main reason.

    The final full amalgamation of the City happened in the late 90's. Once again this was for servicing and growth control reasons plus the misguided vision that there can be economies of scale in government.

    I can think of other examples where amalgamations were "forced" on th parties and they have ended up costing one of the parties alot more money and hassle than it was probably worth.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  4. #4
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    I think it is generaly more efficient to consolidate, but most smaller places are reluctant to give up their identities. (I don't know how you guys post drunk, I tried to post this last night on 7 scotch and waters, and gave up)
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  5. #5
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    There has to be a balance. Taken to its most extreme, you would have all cities and counties merge into one huge entity, which would obviously not work well. But the flip side is a situation like Atlanta where every little burb wants to be the center of the universe and doesn't realize that urban problems don't respect city boundries. Carving out all of the "good" neighborhoods into one town while putting all the "bad" neighborhoods into another town that will have no tax base only results in crime that can and definately will cross city borders.

    Big box stores love this fragmentation. If Littleville won't approve your Mega-Mart, give tax breaks, free road upgrades, or use eminent domain to grab the land you need, then you can always go to Smallburb, Microtown, or Edgeton a mile down the road. One of them will do what you want while Littleville loses out on all the retail sales tax but still has to deal with the traffic going to and from Mega-Mart. With less municipalities that each cover larger areas, it is more difficult for developers of any type to play cities/counties against each other.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  6. #6
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Caution, I am doing this from memeory of urban history classes and watching the news the last few years, the dates may be off a bit.

    I'll point you to the "centre of the universe", Toronto. It has undergone 3 major consolidations in the past 50 years. The first in the 50's took in 11 municipalities to form what people now tradionally think of as Toronto. One of th epurposes of this was to provide region services and to aid in cooperation for a then regional transit service. Many of the "smaller" places were actually in better shape financially than the City proper.

    The next amalgamation happended in the 80's (pretty sure). It created "metro" Toronto as a overseer of the City plus the adjacent suburbs. Services and growth was once again the main reason.

    The final full amalgamation of the City happened in the late 90's. Once again this was for servicing and growth control reasons plus the misguided vision that there can be economies of scale in government.

    I can think of other examples where amalgamations were "forced" on th parties and they have ended up costing one of the parties alot more money and hassle than it was probably worth.
    I think you're a bit off with your dates. "Metro" Toronto was created in the 1950s. It hooked up the growing townships outside the old city with the economic muscle of the established City of Toronto. It almagamated about 11 small towns into 6 larger municipalities, plus the "metro" level of government. This was the Toronto that "worked" and created the Toronto-as-shining-example myth/reality. During the 1970s, municipalities surrounding Metro Toronto were amalgamated into the regions (York, Peel, Durham, Halton) that make up the "Greater Toronto Area". Unlike Metro Toronto, none of these regions had a large economically viable urban centre to support their growth and the Province of Ontario pretty much paid for most of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the massive growth (sprawl) that occurred in these areas during the 70s/80s/90s.

    As Toronto matured two major things happened. One, in an attempt to become more democratic, the orginal structure of Metro Council was altered from indirectly elected representatives (local councillors would be elected by their peers to serve on Metro Council, with representation proportional to population) to directly elected Metro Councillors. While nominally creating a more responsive metro government, this also had the effect of pitting the local governments against metro on a number of issues. Not to mention confusing consituents - was there issue a local one, or a Metro one? To top it off, Metro Council built themselves a nice palatial HQ (which I am sitting in right now as I type this). The Metro/local governance dynamic that had created a successful Toronto became severely dysfunctional.

    The second major event resulted more or less from the first. The conservative provincial government elected in the mid-90s decided that the best response to governance issues in Toronto was to amalgamate the whole lot into one "mega-city". One paper, it made some sense. However, the province also expected that all the savings they expected from eliminating duplication would pay for all the fiscal responsibilities they downloaded to the city- things like roads, transit (capital and operations), welfare, water, etc. had all been subsidized to various extents by the province. This was true for all municipalities in the Province of Ontario.

    The result is, 7 years later, the city is still a mess. We're broke, and local governance still has many of the same issues that plagues council in the late 90s (mainly a suburbs v. downtown cat-fight). The last year has seen some improvement, with the election of a progressive mayor, and a realization from both the provincial and federal governments that a healthy Toronto is key to a healthy country.

    Geez, now I know how MZ feels What was the question again?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    Does Metro Toronto have its own general fund budget? Does it get funding through property tax, or provincial "revenue sharing"? What type of services does the Metro authority provide?

    Do the individual municipalities within Metro Toronto have their own budgets? Do they provide services?

    Does Ontario manage services that are usually considered municipal services? Or do they just provide funding?

    Sadly, I know very little about the province across the river.

  8. #8
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by AubieTurtle
    Big box stores love this fragmentation. If Littleville won't approve your Mega-Mart, give tax breaks, free road upgrades, or use eminent domain to grab the land you need, then you can always go to Smallburb, Microtown, or Edgeton a mile down the road. One of them will do what you want while Littleville loses out on all the retail sales tax but still has to deal with the traffic going to and from Mega-Mart. With less municipalities that each cover larger areas, it is more difficult for developers of any type to play cities/counties against each other.
    Ah, Avondale Estates & Dekalb County?

    Another option rather than losing autonomy through consolidation is what many city & county governments do, share public services. Many share 911, fire & police & some might share so many services they effectiviely operate as a single entity.

    But the core services that shape & influence the built environment, all of your's bread & butter: planning is usually not part of that shared services deal. But I would hate to see any of you fine people out on the street because of consolidation

  9. #9
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by munibulldog
    Does Metro Toronto have its own general fund budget? Does it get funding through property tax, or provincial "revenue sharing"? What type of services does the Metro authority provide?

    Do the individual municipalities within Metro Toronto have their own budgets? Do they provide services?

    Does Ontario manage services that are usually considered municipal services? Or do they just provide funding?

    Sadly, I know very little about the province across the river.
    Metro Toronto no longer exists...it and its six constituent municipalities were amalgamated into the new City of Toronto in 1998. Around this time, wholesale changes were made in the funding arrangement between the Province and all municipal governments in Ontario. Previously, the Province subsidized a wide range of services provided by municipalities through transfer payments. Municipalities used property taxes to pay their share. In addition, certain services, such as education (?), were the sole responsibility (funding-wise) of the local municipality. That all changed - the Province, in return for taking on full responsibility for education and welfare costs in munipalities, made municipalities responsible for pretty much everything else. Reduced costs and other efficiencies were supposed to pay for the added responsibilities thrust upon the municipalities. In practice, it hasn't worked very well. The sole source of revenue for municipalities is basically the property tax. At a time when both the federal and provincial governments were reducing taxes, municipalities were loath to increase property taxes even though they had added responsibilities to pay for.

    In order to balance its budget (municipalities are not allowed to run a deficit), Toronto basically gets a multi-multi million dollar bailout from the Province every year. We should start seeing some gas-tax money soon, but it will barely help to offset operational costs for transit, let alone pay for infrastructure renewal or expansion.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Indianapolis is probably the best known of the city-county mergers. It was called UNIGOV and adopted back in the 70's by then-mayor Richard Luger. I believe Jacksonville, Florida has done something similar, and I think Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee were discussing something like it as well.
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  11. #11

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    This patchwork of municipalities is a familiar condition in the Milwaukee area. Home rule/independent autonomy of municipalities works for some services (police, public works, etc) but for other services (schools, transportation, etc.) some kind of regional approach would clearly offer "more bang for the buck."

    This regional cooperation is hard to come by in a metropolis like Milwaukee, where the white middle class fled to the suburbs long ago to escape both the real and imagined "urban problems" of Milwaukee. With the decline of Downtown Milwaukee as an employment center, and the rise of suburban office parks, most suburban residents see little to no need to contribute to say, a comprehensive, regional transportation approach. Most suburban residents both live and work in the suburbs, and venture into the city for sporting events, theater, etc.

    But of course suburban residents would gladly pay for the cultural amenties they enjoy by being close to a major city? Yeah, right. The City of Milwaukee, and to some extent Milwaukee County, finds itself in the predicament of containing the bulk of the social problems that plague any central city, and at the same time being left to entirely fund those urban perks that folks in Waukesha County (the largest suburban county) so eagerly enjoy.

    This cycle is compunded by a State government run by Republicans from Waukesha County and Democrats from Madison, who view Milwaukee as a drain on state recources, whilst simultaneosly reaping the economic and cultural benefits Milwaukee brings to the state, namely major league sports, world class festivals and musems, big time conventions, etc.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Here in Rhode Island all 30+ municipalities could be merged into one city-state for the sake of efficiency, but it will never happen. It would be politically impossible to tell a town that has existed for 100's of years that it will cease to exist as a sovereign municipality. Besides, the state government has been so corrupt no one would trust it to run anything.

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    The jurisdictional fragmentation of most American metro areas is a travesty, especially in the midwest and the northeast. Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee are among the worst, and not coinicidentally those cities are among the very poorest in the country. I highly recommend the series of "Metropattern" studies conducted by Myron Orfield and his associates. Search Amazon and you will find several; go to his website and you can order more studies on select metro areas for $5. David Rusk -- see his Inside Game, Outside Game -- feels that the route to greater consolidation of metro areas is via the inner ring suburbs. They are now generally more threatened than the central cities themselves ("inner ring" suburbs are decidedly not, for the most part, home to the well-to-do sophisticates, as Pollyannish David Brooks would have it). Cleveland's First Suburbs Consortium is one example of a move in this direction. The inner suburbs increasingly see the central cities as their allies in the halls of state government, but they have to get results now before too much of the population (and wealth) flows to exurbia. Already the hole at the central of Cuyahoga County, Ohio is gaping, to take one example.

    The downside of consolidation is that, yes, the small jursidictions will need to relinquish some autonomy. My solution to this is to retain town councils, where some decision-making powers can remain (think, smoking ordinances and the like). Some loss of local autonomy is a small price to pay for saving our cities and suburbs. Taxing and planning authorities should be as broadly based as is practicable. We shouldn't tolerate more of our homes and neighborhoods to undergo inexorable decline. Once a suburb or neighborhood reaches the "tipping point" (as measured in terms of poverty or race), yet another suburb or neighborhood is lossed, and segregation (both economic and racial) increases.

    I could go on and on ranting how county-based governance is better than city-based. The choice between quaint New England towns and mindless sprawl of (say) Northern Virginia is a false one. Rather, it is a choice between economically vibrant Fairfax County, Va. and a metro area, like Cleveland or Detroit, that is divided against itself.

  14. #14
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    Instead of getting rid of the many different towns, Detroit badly needs a strong regional planning authority. The one regional planning agency that exists, (SEMCOG), is voluntary, and it's board is heavily weighted to exurban areas, instead of by population.

    The division of the Detroit region by race and income, largely follows government boundaries. Despite the fact that Detroit has gone from a population of over 1.9 million to less than .9 million people today, it is still the most dense city in the region, (and still losing population). Sprawl is exacerbated by people leaving the city and inner suburbs to live on quarter acre lots with septic tanks.

    You can not slow the decentralization of the Detroit region with Home Rule. You are going to need to find a system which will give poor cities more resources than just the property tax, which widens the differences between rich and poor. Home rule also allows metro Detroit communities to opt out of the suburban bus service, SMART. Which means that suburban communities do not have to pay for transit, or allow buses to stop within their boundaries. Considering that even Troy has more jobs than downtown Detroit, sprawl and lack of transit is a major problem.

    Detroit has not been able to annex neighbouring towns, since an State ammendment was passed in the 1930's to put the suburbs at ease. The metropolitan regions of Vancouver, Portland, Minneapolis and many other cities have co-operated by setting up a regional network
    Due to the extreme levels of racial/ income polarity, combined with powerful property rights I don't think that Detroit could amalgamate it's suburbs. Besides most of the adjacent inner suburbs are declining, and would decline much quicker if 5 or 10 were amalgamated with Detroit due to property tax. Amalgamating all of the suburbs would also be unrealistic.

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    Quote Originally posted by green22
    Instead of getting rid of the many different towns, Detroit badly needs a strong regional planning authority. The one regional planning agency that exists, (SEMCOG), is voluntary, and it's board is heavily weighted to exurban areas, instead of by population.

    Due to the extreme levels of racial/ income polarity, combined with powerful property rights I don't think that Detroit could amalgamate it's suburbs. Besides most of the adjacent inner suburbs are declining, and would decline much quicker if 5 or 10 were amalgamated with Detroit due to property tax. Amalgamating all of the suburbs would also be unrealistic.
    Planning AND taxation. You need both. Regardless of how difficult it is. And yes it needs to be broadly based. Lumping Detroit together with the inner ring burbs, without the high wealth outer suburbs, will only hurt. Notice that I haven't even mentioned a regional, county-based school district....I think that you would run into even more political trouble if you tried to push that...But a stable school district makes more stable neighborhoods that people invest in.

  16. #16

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    You all have gotten to the meat of the matter on this one, at least as it concerns rust belt metropoli like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit... the matter of race. It's easy to caricature/villify the suburban communities in these regions as filled with scared white people turning their backs on the uncomfortable problems partly of their own making. But take a look at American urban history and it's difficult to conclude otherwise -- it's amazing the lengths that white Americans will go to avoid even basic face-to-face contact with African Americans and other minorities.

    Regional cooperation has been attempted in Twin Cities -- largely because economically and demographically it's difficult to distinguish between Mpls, St. Paul and their inner-ring suburbs. I read Orfield's book and I would love to see his ideas put into play in Milwaukee and other cities like ours. But when suburban leaders scoff at the mere mention of suburban communities helping to support the Downtown convention center, or a regional transit solution that involves a suburban component, it's hard to conceive of Milwaukee and Waukesha (or Detroit and vicinity) even arriving at the table to begin a discussion of regional cooperation.

    Another thing that makes Twin Cities unique is the position of the MN State Government as a kind of overseer/ringleader in this regional metropolitan development game. Again, at a time when the state legislatures of Wisconsin and other Midwestern states are preoccupied with perverting the constitution to tell people who they can and cannot marry, hope is dim right now for any activist involvement in Madison, Lansing or Columbus.

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    Quote Originally posted by gerblunk

    Regional cooperation has been attempted in Twin Cities -- largely because economically and demographically it's difficult to distinguish between Mpls, St. Paul and their inner-ring suburbs. I read Orfield's book and I would love to see his ideas put into play in Milwaukee and other cities like ours. But when suburban leaders scoff at the mere mention of suburban communities helping to support the Downtown convention center, or a regional transit solution that involves a suburban component, it's hard to conceive of Milwaukee and Waukesha (or Detroit and vicinity) even arriving at the table to begin a discussion of regional cooperation.

    Another thing that makes Twin Cities unique is the position of the MN State Government as a kind of overseer/ringleader in this regional metropolitan development game. Again, at a time when the state legislatures of Wisconsin and other Midwestern states are preoccupied with perverting the constitution to tell people who they can and cannot marry, hope is dim right now for any activist involvement in Madison, Lansing or Columbus.
    Ah yes, we all have our opinions as to what the great moral issues of the day are...It seems to me that the wanton destruction of our heritage and the destabilizing of our neighborhoods is rather more important than the possibility that somewhere, somehow, two people of the same sex may marry...As an Ohio native, I know all too well the state of affairs in Columbus. But as hard as it may be to accomplish, especially in places where there is extreme racial balkanization, there is no alternative to greater regionalism. Indianapolis and Louisville have been able to achieve this at least on a limited scale -- in states not known for their progressive politics. It's interesting how Minnesota's ex-governor, once a mayor of inner suburban Brooklyn Park, became an advocate for greater regionalism, despite (or because of?) his professed libertarian views. You are right -- support from the state governments is crucial.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    Indianapolis and Louisville have been able to achieve this at least on a limited scale -- in states not known for their progressive politics. .
    Both Lexington and Louisville have merged government, though specific enabling legislation was enacted for the Louisville/Jefferson County merger. Lexingtons was called "urban county government". Louisvilles is somewhat different.

    Looking at a map of Jefferson County it appears to be extremely balkanized..almost like one of those old maps of the Holy Roman Empire, with a multitude of small suburban jurisdictions.

    Yet for basic services like water and sewer there already was countywide authorities (the Louisville Water Company and Metropolitan Sewer District). There also was countywide planning and zoning and a countywide parks and recreation department and a countywide library system and so forth. And a countywide school system (only one small suburban school district)

    In some cases these smaller suburban "citys" (really just incorporated subdivisions or small neighborhoods) didn't even have their own police deparments, they used the county or city police.

    The suburban incorporated areas where permitted to opt out merger, but they were nearly just legal fictions anyway, and their residents are subject to ordnances and taxes from the merged city/county government, and elect members to the metro council.

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