Monday, March 12, 2007

Consolidation Is The Key For Prosperity by Akindele Akinyemi





I spoke on consolidating Detroit with Wayne County a while ago. I have started discussing this process not in Detroit but in Benton Harbor.




The purpose? Building a more regional powerbase for those residents living in that area. That area by the way are predominately African American.





As a Urban Conservative I feel it is my God-Given duty to find solutions to the crisis in our community.




I feel it is time to consolidate Benton Harbor, Benton Heights and Benton Township into one consolidated municipality. Also create a city-county consolidation effort with Berrien County. If we establish a African American Chamber of Commerce (which One Network is leading in this effort) this will help validate businesses in the region.




Here is the reason for consolidation.





We are trying to build urban regional power in Southwestern Michigan. This is what the One Network is all about. Benton Harbor has 12,000 residents. Benton Heights has 5,458 residents and Benton Township has 16,404.





Consolidation is expected to enhance economic development by eliminating competition among jurisdictions and shifting the locus of development to the regional level. This change could enhance the bargaining position of government actors to counteract the market power of firms as well as reduce information costs. City-county consolidation can internalize development spillover effects and reduce incentives to provide unnecessary subsidies to business. Urban planners assert consolidated government can better address problems of multi-jurisdictional economic decline and geographically uneven development. Consolidation can also streamline the regulatory and development approval process.





What people need to realize out here in these areas is that Consolidation has also been advanced as a solution to racial and economic segregation through intra-metropolitan redistribution. Jurisdictional fragmentation allows for sorting of the population by tastes for public services and tax levels, permitting a more efficient match of preferences to publicly provided goods, but also offers a seemingly endless potential for “secession of the successful” into smaller, more socially advantaged units, and thus more metropolitan segregation and stratification.





The other thing Benton Harbor and Detroit might want to look at is how the city of Louisville, ranked 65th among the nation's cities, vaulted ahead of Pittsburgh in ranking by merging with Jefferson County, Ky., and becoming the nation's 16th-largest city. The old city's mayor, Jerry Abramson, lost his job, but he ran for mayor, the equivalent of county executive, in the new entity and won with the votes of suburbanites.




Benton Harbor can do the same.




Detroit can do the same.





Since most voters live outside the old city, the new city/county council has a suburban flavor, but a 26-member council guarantees substantial minority and city representation. And, of course, the county's 83 other municipalities are still free to do their own thing.





Louisville is an experiment that everyone across the nation is watching, and Mr. Abramson is determined to make it work. Forming a new city-county government from scratch allowed him to streamline departments and services, and over 700 government jobs were eliminated.





The idea for a metro city-county government in can have strong bipartisan political support and business backing in Detroit and Benton Harbor. Gone are the days when the city and the county would compete against each other to attract companies, and it is time for local and county leaders to begin placing the region high ranking puts it on the "look-at" list for businesses seeking new venues.





Of course, if we were to do this in Berrien County with Benton Harbor it would be true for every urban community in Michigan. For example, a new metro Detroit would vault ahead of almost every other city in America. With just 4.4 million people in Wayne County, a merged city-county Detroit would place the region on the map as a world class region. The economic engine would start again in Southeastern Michigan. The same for Southwestern Michigan.





The notion of a metro city-county government in Detroit and Benton Harbor is for real. There are discussions on this already. Benton Harbor can consolidated services with its county, including planning, purchasing, water and sewer, libraries, public health. The city and county had revenue sharing agreements for the wage taxes they collected. Regional transportation is necessary in Southwestern Michigan to link Benton Harbor with St. Jospeh, Niles, Berrien Township, St. Joseph Township and Berrien Springs. State Senator Buzz Thomas has reintroduced the DARTA bill to push for regionalized transportation. We have to make sure Benton Harbor region participates in BARTA (Berrien Area Regional Transportation Authority).





Consolidating city-county governments would increase the tax base in the region as well as retain jobs. Another thing is to abolish local school boards and consolidate them into the Intermediate School District (ISDs). Wayne County RESA can be reformed as a 25 member countywide school board voted in by districts. Detroit would have the most number of members on the board with 7 members because it is the largest municipality in Wayne County. Regionalize school districts is good public policy and creates an atmosphere of diversity among residents.





The biggest advantage of consolidating Detroit and Benton Harbor with Wayne and Berrien Counties, respectively, boils down to cost savings. In the short term, studies have shown that costs increase, but that over the long-term, depending on the design of the government, there may be monetary savings.





Increase efficiency. Government inefficiencies associated with duplicating city and county services are eliminated.




Improve resource base. A consolidated government has better jurisdiction, legal powers, and tax sources.




Enhanced planning capacity. Under a comprehensive planning system, dealing with land development issues and controlling sprawl prevents fragmentation. The development approval process is streamlined and public/private cooperation is improved.




Improve accountability. As a consolidated entity, responsibility and blame cannot be disputed between the separate city and county governments.




In Detroit-Wayne County I would like to see a single chief executive and a multi-district council with a few at-large seats. The executive, or mayor, has veto power, while the council has both legislative and fiscal functions. A city manager is needed to handle day to day functions of the government.




In Benton Harbor-Benton Township-Benton Heights I would like to see an 11 member Board of Commissioners (eight elected by district and two elected countywide). The eleventh board member is the mayor, who is also elected countywide, has veto power and can vote to break a board tie. The mayor appoints the county administrator with the consent of the commission.



Overall, Regionalization is where we should be moving towards. Some did not like my idea of Belle Isle being sold to Metro Parks or having Rouge Park turned over to Metro Parks. If Metro Parks do not want to run Belle Isle or Rouge Park then allow Wayne County to run it as a joint authority with the City of Detroit. We should look into consolidating Highland Park and Hamtramck with Detroit. I know this idea was brought up 10 years ago and we should still discuss this.

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