The State’s ongoing structural budget deficit has caused many people to suggest restructuring government, which would include the most effective form of government – township government. The notion is that this could lower public expenditures. Local government consolidation, and eliminating township government, has also been suggested as a strategy to make governments more efficient and save money. Consolidation proponents often try to depict Michigan’s townships as fragmented or excessive in number.
On the surface this may sound like a fresh idea and a valid solution, but in reality local governments and townships have been sharing services for years and townships are characteristically low-cost entities. True examples of cost sharing are – 57 percent of all townships have joint fire operations and 74 – 80 percent share police and ambulance services.
Cost savings will not automatically result from making smaller governments combine into bigger governments. When has a bigger government produced cost savings or ever been more cost efficient? The cost of government will most certainly increase from reducing the number of local governments in Michigan, rather than reducing costs as consolidation proponents wish were the case.
Township governments efficiently, economically and effectively protect the public safety of families and enhance the quality of life for more than half of the State’s residents. Townships provide more services with fewer resources to residents-and do it in an accountable manner.
Townships are governed by everyday residents serving each other. Because neighbors are serving neighbors, townships match the needs of the communities they service.
Township or local governments work more closely with small businesses-both recruiting and expansion-which provide more jobs locally for families. Township governments understand the needs of the local community.
The premise that combining smaller units of government into larger entities will produce cost savings in providing government services is overly simplistic. There is little, if any, evidence that larger units of government have lower costs. In fact, the opposite is generally true. Cities spend eight times as much as townships on operations and services. County government is even higher. In no way does township service duplicate the services provided by the county. There would be a citizen alienation factor that could be devastating. Frustration, dissatisfaction and aggravation would ensue among residents for simple tasks such as obtaining a building permit for a deck or inquiring about property assessments. While consolidation may appear to address specific local issues, residents should expect local taxes to increase significantly as a result of eliminating townships.
Each year townships receive less and less financial support from Lansing, yet we are able to adapt, adjust our expenditures and continue to provide for the safety, health and welfare of our township citizens. Keeping local government closest to the people results in greater accountability, enhanced responsiveness to constituents and maximizes democracy to serve our State’s residents.
Supervisor, Cannon Township, 2004 – 2008
Kent County, Michigan
Peter MacGregor has been involved with township government since 1992. As a planning commissioner, township trustee and a township supervisors.