Regionalization is one of those issues in Rhode Island that many people talk about but never seems to move forward.
In a recent GoLocalProv article URI professor Ed Mazze suggests again that the state should regionalize along its five counties. But Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian explained to RIPR Political Roundtable this morning why it’s easier said than done.
“When it comes down to the details everyone gets very territorial and no one wants to give at all,” he said. “In every county, there is someone that nobody wants.”
Mr. Avedesian would know; a three year effort to regionalize fire dispatch services with East Greenwich just recently fell apart, East Greenwich Patch reports this morning.
Regionalization presents some serious obstacles for Rhode Island, which along with Connecticut, is one of two states in the nation with no form of county government, according to the last U.S. Census of Governments. As noted in GoLocal, Sen. Louis DiPalma (D — Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) is working on legislation this session that would, in theory, alleviate some of the obstacles.
Perhaps if the General Assembly was to offer incentives to cities and towns for regionalization it could get them to voluntarily associate along geographical closeness or cultural similarity. The state should not to regionalize based solely on county lines drawn in the 17th century when Rhode Island was entirely different than today.
Such an incentive for voluntary association will still have to be powerful, but it’s possible. For instance the GoLocal article places regionalization in a context of property taxes. But the recession, combined with the cuts to state aid, forced municipalities to raise property taxes (as the article points out).
Restoring that aid as a condition for consolidating services across municipal lines could see our state’s communities become much more willing participants. Offering a loan or other funding mechanism for getting services in line with each other might also see communities more willing to participate.
Furthermore, an unsaid issue is that “efficiency” and “cost-saving” often means job loss. We need to make sure our police and fire departments are either protected from that, or else there’s something waiting for anyone who has to be let go due to redundancy.
A part of consolidating services is to break beyond lines on the map in exchange for fiscal sense. If we remain trapped in a 17th Century mindset about the importance of our vestigial counties, look for regionalization to be a troublesome road, filled with issues of geography and suburban-urban clashes.