by James A. Bacon

For reasons rooted in local identity and entrenched political interest, Virginians are unlikely to consolidate their local governments into units aligned with the metropolitan regions they serve. But it is not impossible to imagine governments partnering regionally on specific projects.

A new study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, “Encouraging Local Collaboration through State Incentives,” describes areas where collaboration might make sense and how the state can encourage it.

K-12 education, which accounted for $13.2 billion in state and local spending in FY 2011, is one area rife with opportunity. For instance, special education programs can be administered more efficiently on a regional basis — reducing the cost per student by $6,500 to $13,500.

Public safety, which accounts for $4 billion in state and local spending, offers more low-hanging fruit. Regional radio networks would facilitate the cost-efficient collaboration between local fire, police and rescue. A step toward even greater integration, which could save localities up to $8 million, would be to create of joint emergency dispatch centers. Building joint courthouses can reduce construction costs by 16% 6o 44%. The cost of managing jail populations could be cut by $65 per person per day by allowing individuals awaiting trial to be transferred from jail detention to less expensive community release.

Other functions include regional administration of foster care, regional operation of public utilities and regional procurement.

The state can encourage regional collaboration by identifying savings to the state — the state contributes heavily toward foster care, special education and local jails, for example — and sharing some of the projected gain with the local governments.

There is nothing sexy about these nuts-and-bolts proposals for efficiency in government. In fact, the details can be pretty boring. You won’t find citizens holding demonstrations at the state Capitol grounds to demand more regional collaboration. (Regional foster care now! Regional foster care now!) But taxpayer advocates and good-government types should find common cause in making government work more effectively.

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4 responses to “Fostering Regional Collaboration Case by Case”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    Virginia really is bizarre-o land in many ways. We have the third largest number of county equivalents among the fifty states and DC. Meanwhile, Virginia is behind Texas (#2 in land size, #2 in population) and Georgia (#24 in land size, #8 in population). Virginia is #35 in land size and #12 in population.

    Even if you eliminate Virginia’s equally odd fascination with independent cities in the county equivalent count, Virginia moves into a tie for #10 with Tennessee.

    This bizarre approach to sub-dividing the state causes no end of problems. Some people believe that local road maintenance should be de-evolved to local governments. In Virginia this has been done for all cities and two counties – Henrico and Arlington. That leaves 93 counties which still require centralized road management from Richmond. A county like Fairfax with over 1 million people could pretty easily take on this task. However, Highland County (which is considerably larger than Fairfax) has a population of 2,321 people (or about 5 people per square mile). Bath County is positively jam packed compared to Highland County with a population of 4,731 or 10 people per square mile. Thirteen of Virginia’s 95 counties have fewer than 10,000 residents. For comparison purposes, the smallest county in Maryland has more than 20,000 residents.

  2. larryg Avatar

    often overlooked is the fact that Virginia is also divided into planning districts

    and into MPOs

    in our region, we have regional libraries, transit, jail, water and sewer, some courts, commuter rail, but not schools or law enforcement.

    we also have regional agencies like DMV, social services, soil&water, and others.

    I think regional makes a lot of sense but the local BOS get frustrated when they want the regional folks to do something THEIR way and because they are regional -they are more immune to that… to the frustration of the BOS.

  3. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
    Ghost of Ted Dalton

    I agree that regional approaches can create efficiency. However, I think that there is a “democratic deficit” to such approaches.

    Take the Fredericksburg region….Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and Stafford. If regional bodies contain representatives appointed by each jurisdiction’s governing bodies, you will inevitably get 3 different sets of representatives as the three localities have three distinct governing bodies from an ideological and governing standpoint.

    Whereas elections for regional governing bodies may provide a much different outcome as to who sits on the bodies.

  4. larryg Avatar

    that would be unworkable wouldn’t it? how would that work?

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