Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Marin grand jury calls for more sharing of costs among local government agencies

By Richard Halstead - Marin Independent Journal

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury has issued a report that amounts to a plea for increased sharing of costs among the county's many local government agencies, including police and fire departments.

The grand jury report issued last week acknowledges that full immediate consolidation of agencies may be either impractical or politically unfeasible.

"Consequently," the grand jury stated, "this report focuses on the interim strategy that some governmental managers have found increasingly useful in these challenging times: sharing services." Noting that it was unable to even determine the total number of taxpayer-funded agencies in Marin, the grand jury recommended:

• The county of Marin immediately publish on its website a list of all of the special districts and joint powers authorities and their contact information. The sheer number of duplicate government entities providing similar services in Marin is "mindboggling," the grand jury noted.

• City councils and the Marin County Board of Supervisors require annual reports from their city managers and county administrator that identify any and all opportunities for a regional approach to sharing public services.

• Every local government entity, when facing major capital expenditures, seek out other entities to share the use and costs of the items.

• All government officials make it a priority to identify institutional duplication and then seek more cost-effective alternatives.

• Request that the Local Agency Formation Commission present an annual report detailing the mergers, consolidations and agreements for shared services enacted within the county that year and analyses of future opportunities.

The grand jury report contains several examples of Marin agencies that have consolidated in the past and agencies that are either in the process of merging or sharing services. One positive example it cites is the recent collaboration between the San Anselmo Police Department and the Twin Cities Police Authority.

"I think there is a clamor among the public for further sharing of services and/or consolidation where it makes sense," said San Anselmo Mayor Tom McInerney. "Because with reduced tax revenues, citizens are feeling hit up from all angles with increased fees and taxes. Local government needs to do what it can to explore all options where it makes sense."

McInerney said San Anselmo is now considering a full consolidation between the San Anselmo Police Department and the Twin Cities Police Authority.

The grand jury report also mentions the Larkspur Fire Department's increasing cooperation with the San Rafael Fire Department. It was announced last week that the two departments are considering consolidation.

Larkspur Mayor Len Rifkind said, "I'm a major fan of sharing as many services as possible among all the cities. Ultimately, I think there should be just one Marin County fire district. It matters not that it says Corte Madera, Larkspur, Sausalito or San Rafael on the side of the truck. What people care about is that when they dial 911 people show up, and fast."

The grand jury also provides, as a cautionary tale, the controversy over the proposed annexation of the Sausalito Fire Department by the Southern Marin Fire Protection District. It notes that opposition to the merger resulted in the annexation being put on Tuesday's ballot even though rejection of the merger would result in the city having to pay an additional $1.4 million annually for fire services.

Sausalito Councilman Mike Kelly said, "It is kind of tragic because I think we do fit the profile of a jurisdiction that is too small to run a full-time fire department and maybe other things as well. Sewer consolidations are another area we need to look at."

Marin Supervisor Judy Arnold, who serves on the Marin LAFCO board, said, "Everyone thinks consolidation is a good idea in theory and good government until it comes to losing control in their area, and then they don't like it."

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