The Pros of Consolidated Government


From: The Pros and Cons of Consolidated Government
By: Patrick Hardy, MTAS, 2007


This essay is meant to provide a list of items to consider when examining city/county consolidated government. These are presented in the form of a list of “pros” and “cons”. The list is by no means all inclusive. Certainly there are other items which should be deliberated, especially in light of particular circumstances surrounding any given consolidation effort.

Whether any particular item belongs of the list of “pros” or on the list of “cons” may depend on which jurisdiction you are from. That’s because an item may be a “pro” to one jurisdiction but a “con” to another. This list was generated from articles and books written on the subject of consolidation and thus represents the opinions or perceptions of these authors. Therefore these views may or may not apply in other circumstances, and as noted in a previous paper, very little “hard” (empirical) research exists which verifies some of these opinions.

The “Pros” of Consolidation: Real and Perceived

1. Efficiency: There is a perception that a consolidated government will be more efficient (services delivered at less cost) than will separate city and county governments. However, this may only be a perception. A number of studies have been done in this regard and the results are mixed. In other words, efficiency of consolidated government has not been demonstrated or verified empirically. Efficiency can only be realized in certain cases, and there is no guarantee that on the whole service-delivery costs can be reduced. What this probably means is that in order for efficiencies to occur, the “system” must be actively and very well managed.

2. Less Duplication of Services: There are a few services provided by cities and counties which are currently duplicated and may better be provided jointly. For example, road and bridge construction and paving, fire protection, animal control, or the purchase of goods and materials could be jointly provided in order to increase buying power. Another example is elections, some of which will be eliminated under a consolidated jurisdiction, and thus costs will be reduced.

However, it should be noted that many cities and counties are currently working to jointly provide these services through mechanisms other than consolidation of governments (as discussed in number 3 below).

3. Opportunities For Jointly-Provided Services: As an alternative to consolidation there are many services which can and are jointly provided by cities and counties. For example, some cities contract with the county for law enforcement services, or there are joint ambulance programs, joint animal control, or joint fire service programs. In addition, solid waste may be provided on a “regional” basis and many public safety dispatch services are now jointly provided. In short, there are a number of mechanisms such as the use of interlocal agreements which currently allow jurisdictions to jointly provide services.

4. Improved Coordination of Services: Many services are better coordinated on a larger, cross-jurisdictional scale. For example, fire protection, school transportation, sanitation collection, or planning and zoning services are many times constrained under a multi-jurisdictional system. Consolidation may improve the application of these types of services. It may also provide a vehicle for the application of services which are interdependent such as building permits and fire protection or housing and welfare/health.

5. Expanded Services: New and expanded services will likely be provided to areas not previously served. This is because a fundamental goal of consolidation is to introduce a greater degree of service provision to a larger area. In effect, the level of services experienced by a city will be expanded to the county in order to bring the county up to previous city levels. It should be noted that this may be a negative aspect for city residents, because many of their resources may be funneled to provide services to county residents.

6. The Possibility of Improved Utilization of Some Resources: Under a consolidated jurisdiction there may be opportunities to better coordinate services in order to reduce costs or provide better services at the same cost. Some of these opportunities are, for example, finance-related services such as accounting, billing, or annual audits, or services which require the use of specialized equipment which is infrequently used and yet is currently purchased by both jurisdictions (a GIS system for example).

7. Fewer Officials: A consolidated government should have fewer officials with whom the citizenry must interact. The “system” should be easier to understand and may result in better visibility and public focus regarding governmental actions. However, this may be offset by a decreased responsiveness since fewer officials will represent and serve a greater number of citizens.

8. Reduced Jurisdictional Confusion: Many voters are now confused by the array of governmental jurisdictions to which they belong. Reducing this number may increase citizen interest in government and will simplify confusion over “who does what”. Here too, there are a number of services which either the city or county provide to all or a portion of residents in the other’s jurisdiction. Some of these include water, sewer, schools, or parks and recreation. This interplay of overlapping services will largely be reduced under a consolidated system.

9. Economy of Scale: It is many times assumed that an economy of scale has not been reached in most cities and counties, and that excess capacity to deliver services exists. Under this assumption, a consolidated government will improve the economy of scale under which these jurisdictions operate. However, this is many times a false assumption. For many years now, cities and counties have either “downsized”, reduced operations, increased revenue sources in order to continue to provide the same level of service, or responded to so many requirements (mandates) for services that they have nearly all reached an economy of scale. Thus, in many cases there is no excess city capacity to deliver additional services. In short, many cities and counties have reached an economy of scale and consolidation will not provide any tangible benefits in this regard.

10. Improved Harmony: A consolidated government may help reduce discord among two or more existing governments. For example, annexation disputes or local planning and zoning issues may be more easily resolved. In addition, today’s decision-makers increasingly realize how their actions affect the quality of life for their neighbors. Under a consolidated jurisdiction leaders may better learn to legislate from a “regional” perspective.

11. An Economic Development Edge: Having one government may allow the jurisdiction to react more quickly and provide better resources to prospective business or industry clients. These clients would no longer have the red tape of two or more jurisdictions with which to deal. Instead these services can be provided through one point of contact, thus easing the ability of businesses to deal with local government.

12. Equalization of Services: Under a consolidated government, many services which are now provided at different levels will be equalized. For example, two separate school systems will become one, and thus school services will be equivalent for all students.

13. Opportunities for New Services – Sharing of Costs: Under a consolidated jurisdiction there will be a greater sharing of the costs of services, especially for area-wide services. This being the case, a number of new services may become possible since costs will be more widely distributed. In other words, the jurisdiction may be able to accomplish together what it could not individually.


Gulick, Luther. “Needed: A New Layer of Local Self-Government” in Edward C. Banfield, Urban Government – A Reader in Administration and Politics (New York: The Free Press, 1969), 150.

Brett Hawkins, Keith Ward and Mary Becker. “Governmental Consolidation As a Strategy For Metropolitan Development.” Public Administration Quarterly. Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1991, 261.

Parzen, Julia. “Innovations in Metropolitan Government.” The Metropolitan Initiative, March 11, 1997.