Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Consolidation of Local Government Services: The Incidence and Practice of Service Delivery Consolidation in North Carolina

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Consolidation of Local Government Services: The Incidence and Practice of Service Delivery Consolidation in North Carolina

Article excerpt

Local Governments currently face numerous organizational and fiscal threats including diminishing revenues, unfunded mandates and lower levels of public confidence. The 2008-09 recession has dramatically diminished the ability of counties and cities to fund basic services. Units of local government, like state governments, are making fundamental decisions regarding service delivery. The assessment and redesigning of services is taking place in virtually every unit of government impacted by current global trends.

The consolidation of services by units of local government is a topic of interest for local government managers. Service consolidation occurs surprisingly often and usually goes unnoticed beyond the affected governments and community. Most local governments have consolidated services within their organizations. Moreover, most local government managers would likely acknowledge the potential for additional service mergers within their organizations. The potential for service merger, as a form of positive organizational change is probably significant.

The general purpose of this project is to establish a foundation for further research into the issue of organizational change resulting from the merging of services. In January, 2008, a survey was conducted of the one hundred county managers in North Carolina. The specific research objectives of the survey include providing descriptive information on the frequency of service consolidation in the State of North Carolina and the potential for greater service delivery consolidation for local governments. Additionally, the research project assesses the perceived impediments serving to limit the use of service consolidation as well as the positive outcomes associated with this activity.

This research does suggest strong support from county managers concerning the potential for service consolidation to enhance service delivery, efficiency and accountability. This research confirms that practitioners view the potential of service consolidation as an enhancement to local government organizations. Academic research is inconsistent regarding consolidation outcomes and the perceptions held by practitioners. The problem for advocates of service delivery consolidation is the lack of systematic research on the topic. The issue is typically linked with similar topics such as collaboration, regionalism or comprehensive city-county merger. Also, greater systematic analysis of the pre-merger claims and post-merger results should be undertaken.

Definition and Background

Service delivery consolidation should be defined as a distinct practice and academic topic. Service consolidation is the merging of two or more departments of independent units of government. By definition, service merger results in the elimination of an existing department and the restructuring of a surviving or reconstituted organization with the same or similar function. Substantial organizational change occurs in both governments. For purposes of this research, service merger is defined as follows:

   Service merger is a form of integrated interaction or activity
   between units of government. It involves at least two units of
   government sometimes having overlapping jurisdictional authority.
   The activity occurs when identical or similar departments are
   merged. Each government involved in the service consolidation
   retains their governing political organization and structure and
   remains a separate legal entity. The specific service that is
   merged ceases to be provided by at least one unit of government.
   Despite some common characteristics, service consolidation differs
   fundamentally from local government cooperation, collaboration,
   regionalism and comprehensive city-county merger.

This definition of service consolidation is also distinct from the concept of functional consolidation. A service and a function differ. …

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