A paper by Jered Carr, incoming chair of Public Administration in CUPPA and editor of the journal Urban Affairs Review, was the subject of an article from The London School of Economics’ American Politics and Policy Blog.
Local governments in the United States face a “new normal” in which revenue growth is severely constrained, demands for services are expanding, and their workforces are shrinking. Delivering high quality services within these constraints is a serious challenge for many officials in local government. Popular discussions about how these problems might be solved often emphasize the potential for cost reductions from increasing the scale of operations in each city and eliminating redundant activities across neighboring municipalities through various forms of shared service agreements. These arrangements include contracting for services from other governments, the creation of multijurisdictional service authorities, and a host of other formal and informal arrangements to produce local public services with other governments.
Proponents of these arrangements often express dismay that collaborative service arrangements are not more widespread. To some, the absence of service arrangements to jointly provide or otherwise share services indicates a lack of accountability to residents and a desire by local officials to protect their service “fiefdoms”. Yet this perspective ignores the risks to local governments from sharing service production responsibilities with other organizations, whether other governments, NGOs, or for-profit firms, and the costs involved in reducing these risks to manageable levels. The polycentric nature of U.S. regions creates more opportunities for local governments to share services, but also increases potential risks because of the large number of potential partners, diversity of issues requiring collective action, and the complexity of service arrangements.