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Speer: A question of whether to consolidate

September 7, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

Like meteors shooting across the sky, two noteworthy stories emerged from different parts of the state this week, each on a collision course with the other.

The first was from Alpena Township Tuesday, where Supervisor Marie Twite and her board discussed proposed consolidation efforts with the Alpena Fire Department.

Twite said while she favored partnership efforts in place with the city, she did not support full consolidation efforts. Neither apparently do the trustees at this juncture.

Today the township and city work together on ambulance transfers, as well as meet regularly to enhance relationships. In addition, the two also are pursuing the feasibility of a jointly operated M-32 station at the current DNR office.

Cooperation is one thing but consolidation, well - that's a whole different discussion.

I understand that, as do I think most readers.

But that doesn't mean the discussion should necessarily end there.

Enter the meteor from the other direction, this one from Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) also Tuesday released its annual survey of the financial health of governments across Michigan.

The survey is unique in that it covers all levels of government - townships, cities and counties. The survey cautiously suggests, in the words of government officials themselves, that things seem to be improving across the state.

Several significant findings stand out in the survey, including:

Interestingly, the survey had this to say about consolidation and intergovernmental cooperation.

"One of the most common approaches jurisdictions report turning to in recent years to deal with their fiscal challenges is intergovernmental cooperation for service provision."

"Overall, plans to increase intergovernmental cooperation in 2012 remain steady as compared to findings from 2011, 40 percent of all local jurisdictions expect to increase the number and/or scope of their cooperative activities this year."

Alpena Township officials certainly fall into the above category. They have cooperated, and are cooperating in a number of joint projects with other government entities. I appreciate that perspective, as do I believe most residents.

All of us realize that consolidation is a beast of its own, with many pros and cons, and venturing into those waters isn't easy. The mere fact the township and city have even had discussions and studies regarding fire department consolidation is significant.

For now, there appears to be little interest in pursuing that path. So be it.

I would hope, however, that everyone involved not let the work to date sit on a shelf and grow dust, but instead make it an annual exercise to seriously review and evaluate the merits of the concept.

Sooner or later I believe consolidation is inevitable. When that day arrives, I want us to be prepared for it, and not surprised.



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