Getting to Details on Regionalization
As is common among advocates of regionalization in Rhode Island, Joseph Paolino proclaims savings as if they should be obvious:
There is much to be gained from consolidation; unity and taxpayer savings go hand-in-hand. Why should the trucks plowing snow in Pawtucket stop at the boundary with Central Falls? Why should six purchasing agents be buying the same kinds of supplies instead of one? In this age of computer automation, why should there be finance divisions in six city halls, all processing revenues and expenditures? Why should police, fire and rescue personnel be overworked in the busy cities during business hours, while suburban personnel survey nearly empty neighborhoods? Undoubtedly, there would be major gains if public-safety forces in the six communities served under a unified command and were dispatched, wherever needed, throughout the county.
At the very least, one can say that answers to these hypothetical questions are possible. The very fact that snow plows stop at town borders means that there’s no overlap in the service, so consolidation would only help in some minimal planning sense. A purchasing agent for an entire county would have more work to do determining who needs what, when, and why, requiring more input (and potential for waste) among underlings, and requiring the agent him or her self to be compensated for the greater authority. The same dynamic plays into finance divisions; as the overall authority moves up the tiers of government, more must be done by subordinates, who have more incentive to waste, not being ultimately responsible, and the person who is ultimately responsible is that much farther away from the individuals whom they are supposed to represent, directly or indirectly.
As for safety personnel, I wonder whether Mr. Paolino believes that the suburbs ought to have no coverage. If not, then regionalization provides no mechanism for reducing excessive staffing beyond that already available to the townsfolk who pay the bills. What regionalization could accomplish is to give city dwellers the chance to load up their staffs at the expense of the suburbs, either increasing the cost all around or decreasing the services available outside of the urban ring.
Regionalization and consolidation sound good, and they’ll surely be a common theme as politicians strive to prove their fiscally responsible bona fides, but I’d wager that the effects would, at best, be neutral, but more likely detrimental to the cost and services outcome.