Merger Myths

Consolidation of City And County Governments Won't Save Any Money.

By Emil Franzi

WITH PIMA COUNTY Parks Director Dan Felix's appointment as director of the City of Tucson Parks Department, County Supervisor Mike Boyd is calling for a merger of the two departments to "save money through economy of scale."

Sounds like a nice idea. Unfortunately, Boyd, like most metro government advocates, is blowing smoke, perpetuating myth and exhibiting his basic ignorance about how government really works.

There's little if any savings to be found in consolidating the city and county parks departments

Currents Combining the two systems would obviously not reduce the need for employees who work in those parks, nor for the equipment and supplies they require. There would be no savings in purchasing, since both organizations get stuff at about the same price now, and there are few additional price breaks available.

The only possible savings would be in the reduction of administrative personnel, which--superficially--seems plausible. But, upon closer observation, it isn't: combining the two organizations would mean there would be only one director and a few other high-ranking brass. Unfortunately, that reduction in staff would quickly be offset by the higher salaries paid everyone from the director on down for being in charge of a larger organization. That's how government works; that's how bureaucrats are compensated: the larger the bureaucracy, the higher the administrative salaries. Proponents of governmental consolidation generally ignore this fact.

Furthermore, consolidation in government never cuts people, it just rearranges them, often with a raise. Proponents need to be challenged on that basic fact of bureaucratic life and asked the simple questions: How will this save money? Who will no longer be on the payroll?

There are a few functions in which consolidation savings are possible. A classic example is data handling. Combining the City of Tucson and Pima County's Management Information Services departments would mean major savings, because the need for expensive duplicate hardware and software would be reduced.

This was determined a few years back when both jurisdictions actually discussed a merger. The net result was panic on the part of the City of Tucson, whose pols and bureaucrats immediately built a new palace to house their MIS services, complete with a whole bunch of new hardware.

Information is power, and the city's bureaucracy was not about to share any of it with Pima County. The thought of letting anybody into their records besides their own mandarins was sufficient for them to kill the one real attempt at a sensible consolidation.

Most other areas show very little promise of savings. County Supervisor Ray Carroll believes big bucks are waiting in a consolidation of purchasing services. Carroll, having considerably less time in the game than Boyd, is easier to forgive for buying into this portion of the myth. The truth is, combining forces won't help much, since both governments have already reached economies of scale beyond which little advantage will accrue. Again, merging the two departments would only increase the salaries of those who wind up on top of the big consolidation.

The biggest myth is that there are mammoth savings just waiting for taxpayers by combining city and county governments completely.

But stop a minute and look at what those governments do, and you'll see there is no "duplication" when it comes to roughly 75 percent of the services rendered. County government runs healthcare programs and hospitals, assesses property taxes and administers the jail. City government runs local libraries and a number of other programs in which the county has no say. Both have a police force, parks and a court system, and both have similar administrative functions. Combining them would save little or nothing.

How many cops, dispatchers, clerks and fingerprint techs would you no longer need if you had one police force? Because the new, unified force would be much larger, current top officers present in the sheriff's force would have to be made at least colonels. Not a lot of savings there.

Dreamers like Boyd who prattle vaguely about the alleged savings available in consolidation simply expect the rest of us to accept the concept on blind faith. Unfortunately we have too much government built on blind faith already. TW

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