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Smaller governments look to consolidate services across PA

In today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, there is an interesting article about the push in some parts of Pennsylvania to consolidate various parts of local government. In the Poconos, two small towns are planning to merge police departments. At first, the move generated a lot of protest. However, many local officials and citizens warmed towards the idea when it became clear how much money could be saved by combining the departments.

It took persistent talks to get elected leaders to support the merger, but eventually some of the biggest opponents became some of the biggest supporters, Baujan said. Money saved by the merger in 2000 allowed the department to start its own unit for homicides, accidents and crime scene investigations.

So, what stands in the way of these kinds of consolidation? According to the article, there are a variety of factors that discourage smaller municipalities from streamlining services.

Elected officials often reject mergers because they may create up-front costs or, in the case of fire departments, shift costs from a volunteer group to the government budget, said Dean Fernsler, an emergency services consultant who used to work for Community and Economic Development.

Obviously, the article doesn't exactly apply to Philadelphia. Our service needs are too great and complex to combine police departments with suburban counties. Instead, it seems like the best road for consolidation in Philadelphia is to look within. Many city departments have budgets larger than some local governments. Finding ways to consolidate services and consolidating departments is probably the more fruitful way of finding savings.

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