Cities 101 -- Consolidations

Background

A formal joining of a city (or cities) with a surrounding county government is called a city-county consolidation. The resulting unified body assumes the responsibilities of both the city and the county. Although city-county consolidation has been the most widely attempted metropolitan reorganization model, only a modest number of city-county consolidated governments are in operation at present. A list can be found at the end of this narrative.

Purpose

While city-county consolidations are rare, there have been many state and local initiatives attempting consolidation. The rationale for consolidation is to address certain government challenges. Consolidations have the potential to do the following:

Produce cost savings. In the short term, studies have shown that municipal expenditures increase, but over the long-term there may be monetary savings.

Increase Efficiency. Government inefficiencies associated with overlapping or duplicated city and county services can be eliminated.

Improve Resource Base. A consolidated government may become more powerful with increased legal powers, revenue sources, and jurisdiction.

Enhance Planning Capacity. Under a comprehensive planning system, dealing with land development issues and controlling sprawl may prevent service fragmentation. The development approval process may also be streamlined and greater cooperation with the private sector may be fostered.

Improve Accountability. As a consolidated entity, responsibility for services can no longer be in dispute as it may have been between separate governments. 

Process

Almost every state has provisions in general law to change local government boundaries through municipal annexation or incorporation, but few states permit city-county consolidation in general law. In most places, a majority of citizens must pass a referendum before it can be approved by the state legislature: once the issue becomes part of the local public agenda and petitions and studies have been completed, a commission drafts a new charter. After the referendum, the proposed charter will be ratified or rejected.

Over the last 40 years, nearly 100 referenda and initiatives have proposed city-county consolidations, but voters have rejected three-fourths of them. Multiple attempts at consolidation are typically necessary. Some consolidations fill a need for a basic service and occur where there are a small number of incorporated suburbs. Despite continued interest in consolidations, there are simpler and less controversial ways to achieve the objectives, such as annexations, special districts, or the formation of new municipal governments.

The government charter of a consolidated government defines its structure and is based on the local context. The "pure model" involves the combination of several municipalities and a county government in a metropolitan area into a single government. In this model, two distinct service districts may also be created, with one to provide services for the urban population and another for the rural population. In this case, taxation is linked to the level of services provided. In practice, however, most consolidation efforts do not result in only one government; often small municipalities, special districts and autonomous authorities and boards (for example, health, hospital, the school board, planning board, the port, the electric authority) continue to operate. It is also possible that certain incorporated jurisdictions within the new boundary lines may opt to be excluded.

The most common form of consolidated government is a single chief executive and a multi-district council with a few at-large seats. The executive, or mayor, has veto power, while the council has both

List of Consolidated City-County Governments

The precise number of city and county consolidated governments cannot be specified as there are conflicting definitions across various data resources. (This list contains 40.) For example, in the case of Carson City – Ormsby County, Nevada, only the city remains as an entity following the consolidation. Nonetheless, the government in existence was the result of a consolidation and is therefore part of this list. In Virginia, the result of city-county consolidations in the Hampton Roads region left only independent cities. Although the Commonwealth of Virginia refers to these jurisdictions as consolidated cities, they have been included in this list. Finally, Miami-Dade County is not a consolidation but two separate entities and thus is not on this list.

Alaska

  • City and borough of Anchorage
  • City and borough Haines
  • City and borough of Juneau
  • City and borough of Sitka
  • City and borough of Yakutat

California

  • City and county of San Francisco

Colorado

  • City and county of Broomfield
  • City and county of Denver

Florida

  • Jacksonville-Duval County

Georgia

  • Macon-Bibb County
  • Athens-Clark County
  • Cusseta-Chattahoochee County
  • Statenville-Echols County
  • Columbus-Muscogee County
  • Augusta-Richmond County
  • Georgetown-Quitman County
  • Preston-Webster County

Hawaii

  • City and county of Honolulu

Indiana

  • Indianapolis-Marion County

Kansas

  • Unified Government of Wyandotte County and City of Kansas City
  • Tribune-Greeley County

Kentucky

  • Lexington-Fayette Urban County
  • Louisville–Jefferson County

Louisiana

  • Baton Rouge-Parish of East Baton Rouge
  • Lafayette-Parish of Lafayette
  • New Orleans-Parish of Orleans
  • Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government

Massachusetts

  • Nantucket-Nantucket County
  • Boston-Suffolk County

Montana

  • Anaconda-Deer Lodge County
  • Butte-Silver Bow County

New York

  • The City of New York-Counties of Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond

Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia-Philadelphia County

Tennessee

  • Hartsville-Trousdale County
  • Lynchburg-Moore County

Virginia

  • Chesapeake-Norfolk County
  • Hampton-Elizabeth County
  • Newport News-Warwick County
  • Suffolk-Nansemond County
  • Virginia Beach-Princess Anne County

 

Sources

Beardslee, Peggy. "Questions and Answers on Consolidation." Paper presented as a research project to the National Association of Counties (July, 1998) (with 2000 update) 

Campbell, Richard W. and Sally Coleman Selden "Does City-County Consolidation Save Money?"  Policy Notes 1(2) (March 2000). 

Carr, Jered B. and Richard C. Feiock. "Who Becomes Involved in City-County Consolidations? Findings from County Officials in 25 Communities."  State and Local Government Review 34(2) (Spring 2002): pp 78-94.

Hardy, Pat, “The Consolidation of City and County Governments: A Look at the History and Outcome-Based Research of These Efforts,” Municipal Training Advisory Service (MTAS), University of Tennessee, (2012), with the Tennessee Municipal League.

Kenefake, Scott M. "City/County Consolidation: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?" Kansas Government Journal (August 2003).

Morris, Leo. "A House Divided -- A Four-Day Series on Consolidated Government", News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN). August 2003: pp 19-22.

Murphy, Kathryn, "Reshaping County Government: A Look at City-County Consolidation," National Association of Counties, February 2012.

 

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