Shared services offers a step in the right direction


    Grand Rapids Business Journal’s continuing series on governmental consolidations has now come to include the “shared services” efforts in Muskegon County, as well as the long efforts of Saugatuck and Douglas and Saugatuck Township to form one government. Each instance of planning for such inevitability is unique, in that very local considerations are weighted. The One Kent coalition believes Gov. Rick Snyder awaits one type of plan that can be used for overlay in any region of the state; however, one-size-fits-all planning may face rejection by all.

    Current discussion across the state is fueled by lack of funds as Michigan and the U.S. continue to work through the debris of the Great Recession. Gov. Snyder added to government revenue anxiety with a classic “carrot-and-stick” approach, declaring that state revenue sharing would be based on the demonstrated governmental efforts to form such consolidations and collaborations.

    Other than the almost decade-long discussion in Saugatuck, almost all planning statewide is confined to shared services rather than governmental consolidation, as has been proffered by One Kent. Kent County and Grand Rapids elected leaders, like their fellows elsewhere, find shared services to be the easiest approach. One Kent spokespeople call such plans baby steps that do not achieve real savings.

    It is significant that the initiator in Muskegon, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce representing businesses throughout the county, became the host for such planning, which helped to remove some of the politicizing by government entities, though it is noted that Muskegon Township and Muskegon Heights did not actively participate. The chamber consultants, however, used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain statistical data — and included them anyway.

    It also is interesting to note that Muskegon business sponsors opted to pay a consulting firm headquartered in Ann Arbor to conduct its study. Chamber President Cindy Larsen noted in the story on page 1, “(The consultant) did not come with any preconceived notions or ideas about how this should play out. It’s all based on objective numbers.”

    Municipal Consulting Services LLC noted in the Muskegon study, “The point at which cost considerations outweigh service consideration is key to the discussion of shared-services. As an example, the cities of Grosse Pointe Shores and Grosse Pointe Woods, two affluent Detroit area communities, have now decided to merge dispatch services. While shared-services may have been an issue of discussion prior to the recession, the financial challenges now facing the two communities intensified and shifted the debate from dispatch service to dispatch cost. For these two communities, the ‘tipping point’ at which cost considerations outweigh the benefits of the previous service model has been redefined.”

    The Muskegon study resulted in 19 recommendations for shared services; one of those included advice to leave the current police department structures in the nine communities as they are. That recommendation was founded in the current distribution of and efficiencies of each police department.

    Larson also noted that during the process, “we created a camaraderie that hadn’t existed before. And you need that positive environment to negotiate through some of these very complicated issues, as it relates to delivering government services.”

    That, too, must be the case in Kent County.

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