The Louisville Metro Council is reacting to a University of Louisville report on merger that found key promises of city and county government consolidation failed.
The study says merger did not result in job growth and cost efficient government services as proponents assured the consolidation would bring. It also draws attention to a number of other issues, such as paying more for fewer Metro employees, poor road maintenance and the lack of adequate accounting in the old city limits.
The study’s author says merger wasn’t worth the cost, but among the recommendations the city can take into account to improve services are decentralizing and operating more on a bottom-up model.
“We had a compact and we had a selective unification of services where they were needed. We also had tax sharing between the central city and county,” says UofL professor Hank Savitch, who conducted the study. “What merger did was to homogenize every service and rigidify the bureaucracy. It’s over 35 miles from one end of the county to the other. That’s the distance between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and to assume that you can have one service for each function covering that area and operating efficiently is unrealistic.”
One criticism in the report that council members who have begun reviewing is the city not releasing information about the Urban Services District, which covers the old city limits.
Councilman Tom Owen, D-8, opposed merger initially. He says the consolidation hasn’t been a total failure, but the lack of accurate accounting of the cost of services in that area is a serious oversight.
“We did not establish a solid baseline of what those services were. That was a fundamental mistake because we don’t even know literally saying, what are those services, we have a hard time putting a figure on them,” he says. “It was not in the interest of the merged government to see whether the revenues generated were paying for those services. At that point, everyone was just trying to hug each other and support the enthusiasm of merger.
The former council president says with almost a decade of merger behind them, now is the time legislators should sequester to see the cost from the Fischer administration to determine what the revenue and expenditures for urban services are.
For the past four years, Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, has pushed a cost-efficiency study to assess expenditures on city services versus the benefits of other operations. He says the UofL report gives that legislation credibility, and cit leaders needs to take the reports findings and recommendations seriously.
“I hope the Fischer administration is more responsive to this because the Abramson administration was really pathetic when it came to looking at costs and having full disclosures,” he says. “I don’t care how things are perceived out there. It is what it is, and that this community suffers from really understanding the cost of delivering services. And I’d like to believe Mayor Fischer is trying to make in roads to do that and I’d like for him to do it quicker than what’s he’s doing.”