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As Long as We Remember...

April 19, 2004

Let's Eliminate One Level of Government

Alan Imhoff

Every day in the news we seem to hear about the latest "mega-merger" of two huge oligopolies in a particular industry. The American - and now world - way of getting better pricing is through more and more control by fewer and fewer companies; also the more efficient use of scarce resources.

Just use the banking industry as an example. How many local banks do we have left in Frederick County? Where is FCNB? Where is Fredericktown Bank & Trust?

Look at the oil companies; look at what happened to Giant Food. The list could on and on.

Maybe it is time to seriously considering merging government.

Would there be any savings to be realized if Frederick County government "merged" with all the municipalities? If done, would there be certain efficiencies in road building or development of parks, not to mention small police departments.

Perhaps just the opposite could be done whereby the municipalities would call for a convention to lay out the boundaries of their corporate entities and annexations would be done to bring the boundaries up to one another, thus eliminating the need for the current county structure.

County assets could be apportioned between the municipalities according to the "quality of life" each municipality wants to set for itself without having to impose its choice on the other municipalities. So, if Burkittsville wants to retain its historical, rural village presence, no problem with The City of Frederick, which wants to maintain its urban status.

Let's dream a little here folks! Is it so far-fetched that by a simple annexation program (with lots of gory bureaucratic details) that we could eliminate the county government as it is now formed? Granted, all municipalities would need to pick up county functions like planning and zoning. They already do that. The municipalities might need to add a person here or there.

Parks and recreation? They already do that but might need a person here or there.

County sheriff's office? Maybe that could be kept and funded on a pro-rata basis by each municipality that would prefer it over their own force. It could also be said of water and sewer, maybe combined into a WSSC-like enterprise operation. Solid waste could fall into this category as well.

Then we need to look at all the social services. The Health Department is a state function, along with the Elections Board; affordable housing is mostly funded at state and federal level and since many municipalities already have some programs in this area, just a couple of more staff members might be needed.

There has been a hue and cry for decades that the county does not adequately revenue share with the municipalities for like services. So, if county government were eliminated (or drastically reduced) municipalities would bear the true cost of providing its residents the services they provide.

If you are still with me, imagine no more eight regional county plans that need to be updated every 5 to 6 years. They would be done by the municipalities, which they do already. The savings there alone would be considerable. This is because the municipalities would already have their maximum urban growth boundaries that they could grow into at their own pace over the next 50 to 100 years.

Well, you say, what about school construction? The Board of Education is a publicly elected body, which would only need taxing authority. Imagine how much better you could make them accountable for educating our students, if they had to come to you every year for the school tax.

Then just think of all the soft costs that would be saved. No more annual bickering and finger pointing between the Board of County Commissioners and the Board of Education. What a bonus in productive staff time could be achieved. No more political whining between mayors, burgesses and the commissioners.

And you would not have to put up with the blame game for excuses as to why things were not done. What a novel idea, actually making the local politicians fully accountable for their actions, or inactions, with no cover provided by "the blame game."

Just think of all the column inches saved from the constant annual game played out every budget cycle. I would hope the various media would find more positive stories to fill the void left by this. If nothing else, they would have more advertising opportunities.

Well, this is just one person's fantasy; it is an alternative to be explored just like the argument for charter government that rears its head every so many years.

Then too, there might not be any substantial savings for the first few years after the change, but wouldn't it be great to get through a spring without the pleading from organizations for the table scraps of the county budget and the annual "oh, woe is me" complaints from officials.

Just imagine, maybe some day my dream might come true.

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