Regionalization: good or bad?
Is regionalization a good thing or a bad thing? Those who have been following the League of Women Voters (LWV) forums on regionalization know that the answer is, "It depends." Regionalization itself means different things to different people, and the meaning can vary depending on the context.
In the first forum, featuring Cuyahoga County's Director of Regional Collaboration Ed Jerse and Cuyahoga County District 2 Council member Dale Miller, we learned that collaboration between county and city governments can offer unique opportunities for efficiencies and can strengthen the entire region. Yet both speakers agreed that merging political entities is not a first choice: most local communities want to preserve their identities, and mergers are so time-consuming and expensive that the costs often outweigh the benefits.
The second forum featured Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers and Steve Presley, finance officer for the Westshore Council of Governments (WCOG). We learned that collaboration between cities may be as formal and complex as the Westshore Enforcement Bureau, which coordinates police activities, or as simple as the six WCOG cities sharing the cost and use of a tree stump grinder. Yet not all WCOG members join every project, and each speaker had a unique response to what Cuyahoga County's trend of outward migration means to their cities and the region.
The immediate issue before the citizens of Bay Village, Westlake, Fairview Park and Rocky River is the possible merger of their four fire departments into one fire district. If both county and city experts say regionalization works in some contexts but not others, how can citizens evaluate whether the proposed fire district is a good or bad idea?
From 2008-2010, the LWV-Cuyahoga Area conducted an intensive study of regionalization. Seven researchers, including outside counsel, conducted interviews, digested reports and led member discussions. The Cuyahoga Area League adopted the position to support "voluntary intergovernmental, collaborative agreements which reduce costs, foster transparency and accountability, improve efficiencies and maintain service standards."
These four criteria offer an excellent yardstick by which to measure the fire district proposal.
The next LWV regionalization forum, to be held at Fairview Park Branch Library on June 19, 7 p.m., will focus on fire district mergers.