by Mel Griffith
Merger mania seems to have seized some of our county commissioners and city councilmen. They want to merge everything in sight. First, it was the fire departments, neither of which apparently want to be merged. They also wanted to throw in the ambulance service for good measure. It was claimed that merging the city and county fire departments would bring considerable savings to the taxpayer, but on closer examination, most of the savings would come about by failing to build two fire stations needed for the protection of rural residents.
The latest passion for merger is to put the city and county planning departments together. This is simply another attempt for the city to control the county outside its borders by imposing city regulations on areas that the city might want to annex some day. Anybody who has ever tried to figure out the city zoning regulations knows it would take three Philadelphia lawyers to interpret them, and then they probably wouldn't agree. The county zoning regulations are already too complicated. In fact, we would be better off with no zoning at all. We don't need to impose the city's complications on rural people. I remain convinced that most of the planning for future land use ought to be done by people who have money invested in the land, not by bureaucrats pursuing some abstract dream of community perfection.
It is true that in private business, bigger is better, as Wal-Mart demonstrates, although it isn't working as well for General Motors. But, this principle doesn't generally apply to government. Bigger businesses thrive primarily for two reasons. First, they can buy in huge volumes, getting lower prices. Second, they can sell at a loss in a specific area long enough to starve out the competition, while making a profit elsewhere. Neither of these principles work very well in government. While government does buy many things, and consolidating purchases can help, most of the budget for most departments goes to personnel, and getting bigger may actually decrease efficiency and effectiveness by adding more layers of bureaucracy through which everything has to pass. The farther removed the final decision makers are from the citizens they serve, the less likely they will understand the effects of their decisions. Since government has no competition, nothing is gained by getting bigger in order to compete.
In theory, merging different organizations should eliminate some jobs and save money. In practice, a high-priced leadership team is put in place to coordinate everything, while everybody protects their own turf, nobody loses their job, and business continues as usual. The move that is supposed to shrink government usually ends up expanding it.