Looking for ways to improve efficiency

It’s no surprise that local governments are struggling financially.

Governments throughout the country are facing deficits and reducing services.

This is not good news.

However, there is room for optimism when you can go to a local city council meeting and find officials working to find ways to cut extra spending.

Norway and Iron Mountain city council meetings provided two good examples this week of how council members are looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their city operations.

When Iron Mountain City Council members were discussing the purchase of a piece of equipment to assist them in locating water main breaks, Councilman Bill Revord suggesting checking with Kingsford to see of they wanted to share the cost, since Kingsford is also dealing with this cold-weather issue.

Iron Mountain City Manager Jordan Stanchina said there are usually five to 10 water main breaks each winter, and the cost of repairs varies greatly. Just recently, one water main break costs $2,000 while another cost the city $700.

It would be expected that Kingsford faces a similar issue.

In the end, Iron Mountain City Council gave Stanchina formal approval to purchase a “buster,” a machine that is used to break through the ground and frost to find broken water mains.

The machine could cost up to $15,000. It was indicated that the city could then rent the equipment to Kingsford when they need it.

While a joint purchase was not approved, at least some type of Twin City sharing opportunity was discussed.

Also, at the Norway City Council, council members discussed the city’s policy of performing a complete snow plow every time three inches or more of snow falls. This was the case on Christmas Day.

Norway City Council member George Bal Bal said having city workers plow the entire city on Christmas was likely very expensive, with holiday pay included.

Norway Mayor Jeremy Oja suggested that workers only plow the main streets when these types of snowfalls occur holidays.

No decision was made, but the discussion shows that local governmental representatives are trying to spend local tax dollars wisely.

In his report, “Local Government Consolidation: Assessing the Evidence for Cost Savings and Economic Improvement,” Senate Fiscal Agency Senior Economist Eric Scorsone assesses the situation statewide.

“Local governments in Michigan face a severe fiscal crisis following the Great Recession of 2008-2009,” Scorsone says.

“Property tax revenue is depressed and likely to continue falling for several years into the future. State revenue sharing has been cut significantly and local option taxes remain highly restricted. Personnel expenditures, particularly those related to health care, continue to rise, creating structural budget deficits. In this fiscal environment, major reforms and restructuring are likely to be ongoing topics of policy discussions,” he said.

“One option is to simply raise taxes; another is to cut spending and reduce services. Beyond those two options, local governments and state policymakers face the challenge of identifying reforms that may be able to reduce costs while still maintaining public services provided.”

“Intergovernmental cooperation and consolidation is one of those reforms,” Scorsone said.