Saturday, June 2, 2012

(MARIN) Sixty-four local agencies and counting, reports 'bewildered' grand jury

by Jason Walsh - Pacific Sun News

Marin has lost track of itself, according to a Marin Grand Jury investigation.

According to the report released this week titled, "Pre-Schoolers Can Learn to Share—Can Local Governments?," the Marin Civil Grand Jury launched an investigation into the number of local government agencies that exist in the county--and they were baffled by what they discovered: no one really knows.

Due to the rise of special districts and joint-powers authorities over the years, the numbers are murky at best--and no one's keeping an exact tally. The phone book lists about 30; the County Tax Collector's office doesn't know--but they know of 153 "taxing entities" who add charges to our tax bills.

The Local Agency Formation Commission knows of about 64 agencies but, according to LAFCO officials, that list is not definitive.

"The Jury has been both bewildered that no one knows how many government agencies there are and shocked at the huge number of suspected governmental entities," reads the report. "No matter the exact number, the Jury's investigation points out that there are too many organizations, most with staff, management and a board of directors, that offer the same public services."

And the bottom line, says the grand jury, is that it's all a huge funding burden for Marin taxpayers.

Adds the report: "While other more populous counties have simplified by forming one school district, one fire department and one police department, Marin County has allowed these entities to proliferate." As an example, the report says the County has 11 separate sanitary districts, 16 county services areas, six community services districts and eight fire protection districts.

The clear problem with this, according to the grand jury, is that costs of government naturally escalate, while revenues tend to stagnate.

Due to Proposition 13 and, more recently, the recession and housing crisis, property tax revenues which pay for governmental services have plummeted—while agency pay scales, pension costs, infrastructure and equipment costs have all grown.

The grand jury report concludes with recommendations that the County "immediately" publishes on its website a list of all the special districts and JPAs and their contact information; city councils and the Board of Supervisors call for annual reports from city managers and the County Administrator identifying opportunities for sharing or consolidating services; and all government officials make it a priority to identify "institutional duplication within their sphere of influence" and bring "openness" to more cost-effective alternatives.

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