Merging City and County Governments
Brian Gongol

Factor In Brief Rationale
Thumbs down Isolation from Elected Leadership The larger the community, the harder it is for individual residents to influence elected leaders. It's much easier to register complaints or suggestions with elected leaders when they're close at hand. It's much easier to influence local leaders where residents are likely to run into the mayor or city council members at the grocery store, at church, or at a high school football game than in communities where the elected officials are held in much loftier positions. Who has to respond more effectively to individual residents' complaints: The mayor in a town of 500 or Richard Daley in Chicago?
Thumbs down Inefficiency The overwhelming tendency is for governments to become less efficient the larger they grow. While "efficiency" is often touted as one of the most appealing reasons for government consolidation, the benefits are often overstated. The benefits as noted below include improved bargaining power and reduced service duplication, but the disadvantages are often under-represented and include increased corruption and the loss of competitive suppliers. When viewed from a broader historical context, it is difficult to find any serious examples of occasions when government became more efficient as it became larger. Indianapolis consolidated its sheriff's office with the city police department and ended up planning to spend more on the combined department than on the two separately.
Thumbs up Improved Bargaining Power The larger the government unit making the purchases, the more buying power it can leverage to reduce costs. Metropolitan or consolidated governments are frequently promoted based on their ability to concentrate buying power into larger purchasing authorities that can force suppliers to offer better pricing. This is a simple case of monopsony power -- the power of a single, larger buyer to force prices downward, in a mirror image of monopoly power when a single, larger suppleir can force prices upward.
Thumbs down Increased Corruption The larger the governmental unit, the greater the prospects for significant corruption. Larger political units have larger contracts to offer, thus inviting a much greater prospect of bona fide corruption. Smaller communities are by no means exempt from corruption, but it's much more rational to undertake criminal activity like collusion, bribes, and kickbacks when the payoffs are greater than when they involve much smaller rewards -- particularly when the criminal penalties are uniform across communities of different sizes.
Thumbs up Reduced Service Duplication By consolidating government services under a single umbrella, waste and inefficiency can be reduced by the elimination of service duplication. Many metropolitan areas contain both cities and counties that provide similar or duplicate services. Sheriff's departments and police departments often cover the same geographic areas, and city parks departments often maintain lands similar to and nearby county conservation areas. By bringing those services under a single government authority, consolidated governments can reduce the administrative costs and burdens of maintaining parallel providers of duplicated services.
Thumbs down Crowding Out of Smaller Service Suppliers The more opportunities for small-to-medium-sized bids and contracts, the healthier the environment for small businesses supplying those goods and services. Suppose a metropolitan area composed of five communities with 50,000 residents each were to consolidate into a single unit of 250,000 residents. In the five-community model, each community could contract out for competitive bids on community services (residential garbage collection, for example). The existence of multiple available contracts would likely support a market for multiple bidders for each community and would be particularly favorable to small businesses and startup firms entering the market. By contrast, the single community of 250,000 would ordinarily offer only a single contract for the same services. Not only would this tend to have a dampening effect on the number of suppliers in the market (since the market is dominated by a single contract and may not contain sufficient opportunities for competitors to remain in business without it), it would also tend to favor larger firms over smaller ones, since the larger firms would be more likely to have existing stocks of capital and equipment large enough to handle the single contract.
Thumbs down Distraction from Real Problems The larger the government unit, the easier it is to hide or ignore problems in smaller communities contained within it. The murder rate in Chicago is one of the highest in the nation, but the differences between wealthy areas like Lincoln Park (where the median household income was reported at $68,613 in 1999) and poorer neighborhoods like West Garfield Park are buried in the statistics when the same police force and municipal government are assigned to them. By consolidating metropolitan governments, municipal leaders often hide the real budgetary or community problems they have failed to effectively address by diluting those problems into larger pools of data.
Thumbs up Protection of Core Cities Core cities benefit from the expansion of the tax base that supports their feature services and attractions. It is frequently argued that suburban communities take advantage of their core cities by offering close access to the major attractions of the core city (especially events and facilities) without having to pay for the direct or indirect costs of those attractions. Consolidated communities spread those costs over the entire metropolitan area, preventing some communities from "free riding" on others.
Thumbs down Reduced Intra-Market Competition Residents benefit from healthy competition among different communities within a given metro area. Most people regard their hometown to outsiders as a choice of metropolitan area. But within a given metro, intense rivalries and allegiances often emerge among the distinct communities there. Communities will often respond to changes in demographics by offering bundles of services that reflect the demands of their residents. For example, one community heavily populated by young families may choose to spend a larger share of its municipal budget on elementary and secondary schools, while a neighboring community with a larger population of retired adults may enforce stronger ordinances on noise and offer more community health services. Greater consolidation of government services will tend to reduce the range of choices available to local residents and will tend to diminish their satisfaction with the services provided by their local governments as those services become increasingly homogenized throughout the metro.
Thumbs up Improved Metropolitan Identity-Building It's easier to promote a metropolitan area under a single "brand" name than under the names of multiple communities. With more than 330 metropolitan areas of more than 100,000 people in the United States in 2000, it's difficult to build a "brand identity" for economic development efforts without a concentrated effort among all of the communities in a metropolitan area. That job is certainly eased when the entire metropolitan area is consolidated under a single government authority.

Examples of Merged City-County Governments