Sustained Outrage

Metro government: There’s no one size fits all

Bruce Katz is something of an expert on metro government. He is vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, where much study of the nation’s brucekatz.jpgmetropolitan areas is done. During a recent chat, I asked him if he had any advice for a community, such as Kanawha County, where residents are considering whether to form a metro government. Katz (pictured) warns that reorganizing local government is difficult, but more people are finding it worth the trouble.

“Nothing comes easily in this area,” Katz said. “The fact remains that more and more places feel a need to change. They’re realizing that business as usual, with everyone going their own way, leads to paralysis.”Municipalities spend a lot of time competing against each other. “

While it’s true that merging governments does not increase the population or make the workforce any more skilled, a cohesive regional government is frequently associated with a better job market, he said.

“The literature is still divided on whether consolidated government leads to a better economy, but there is tantalizing evidence that it may be so. The intuition is that greater cohesion in government might be a economic value.

“It’s not as immediately sexy as an effort to land a particular manufacturer, but over time, it may be the most important thing.

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Metro government: What about the user fee?

Could metro government mean the end of Charleston’s user fee?

Very possibly.

At a July reception, representatives of various governments in Kanawha County had a chance to ask Louisville, Ky., Mayor Jerry Abramson how his community handled various problems when merging city and county governments in 2000.

Charleston City Manager David Molgaard, for example, asked about Charleston’s user fee, a $2 weekly deduction from every paycheck in the city.

If county residents formed a county-wide council, it could easily “vote the user fee out of existence,” Molgaard said.

“You may have to restructure your finances,” Abramson said. “You can let that kill it [metro government], or you can noodle on it a bit.”

The goal, Abramson said, is to identify everyone’s needs and concerns, and then address them. If the rest of the county would not support that fee, then the new government should be designed without it.

Meanwhile, at a recent meeting of Charleston’s Metro Government Committee, city council members were told that the fees city residents pay for certain services, such as garbage and fire protection, do not completely cover the costs of those services.

Garbage service, for example, costs $1.6 million more than Charleston residents pay in city refuse fees. The city uses tax money to make up the difference.

That means, if a community next door to Charleston wanted to pay to engage the city’s services, it would not be simply a matter of charging current fees of those new customers.

Metro government: Watch the forum

You can watch the July 8 forum on metro government featuring Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. A video recording of the event is at the Kanawha County Commission’s Web site:

Part 1

Includes an overview of Louisville’s experience by Jerry Abramson. About 33 minutes.

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Metro government: Interest in Harrison County

ron_watson.jpgHarrison County Commissioner Ron Watson has been keeping an eye on Kanawha County’s metro government discussion.

He grew up at Lost Creek in Harrison County, but he worked for more than 20 years for the consolidated government of Jacksonville, Fla.

“I have some knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly of consolidated government,” he said.

Clarksburg has about 16,000 people, but used to be a major city in the state with 30,000 people. Bridgeport is an energetic, up and coming city of about 8,000, he said. But all the municipalities compete and squabble with each other to annex developing bits of the county, which doesn’t seem like much of a growth plan to Watson.

“I love what Kent Carper and Kanawha County Commission did, by going to the Legislature and getting the opportunity to put it on a ballot, they can let the people choose what they want.

“I’m going to follow them very carefully and closely as they go through the process.”

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Metro government: Where are specifics?

One good question that keeps coming up in discussion of metro government is exactly how would county residents save money on the functions of government, how much and in what categories?

The short answer is nobody knows because the committee that is responsible for figuring it out hasn’t been formed yet.

Nor will it be formed unless Charleston and Kanawha residents agree that they want to consider forming a consolidated government. That can be done either through a petition or by resolutions passed by Charleston City Council and the Kanawha County Commission.

I asked Jennifer Sayre, deputy county manager, when residents could expect to get more specific details about metro government savings. Here is her response:

When will the cost savings of Metro Government be discussed?

Since the discussion has started regarding Metro Government in Kanawha County and the City of Charleston, the number one question that has been asked is how much money will a consolidated government save?  Unfortunately there is no correct answer to this question at this time.  As I have posted before on the Gazette’s Blog, most of the decisions regarding the layout of the consolidated government will not be developed until the Charter Review Committee is appointed.  The Charter Review Committee must be composed of the following based upon statute:

(1) Two government officials or their designees from the Principal City appointed by the governing body of the principal city;
(2) Two County Commissioners or their designees from the affected County appointed by the County Commission;
(3) Two or three public members, including one from an unincorporated area, elected by the other members to make the number of the charter review committee members and odd number.

As you can see, the members of the Charter Review Committee must represent the full population of those being considered in the consolidated government.  Once the Charter Review Committee is appointed, then the Committee has two years to study metro government as the law requires and provide a draft charter for the public to vote on.  The development of this charter will allow for public comment as required by the statute.  The Committee must hold at least three public hearings during its study of metro government and completion of a draft during the two-year allowed period.
The Committee is charged with several duties, which include

(1) The fiscal impact of the proposed consolidation on the affected municipalities, counties and metro governments including:
a. The cost of providing services by the consolidated local government;
b. Projected revenues available to the consolidated local government based upon proposed classifications and tax structures; and
c. Projected economies of scale resulting from consolidation.

Therefore, the Charter Review Committee will take into account the proposed cost and cost savings of a Consolidated Government.  The Committee will be given ample opportunity to study potential cost savings with the Metro Government.  The Committee’s study process and draft Charter will be a public document that may be viewed by the public during its draft period.  The draft Charter will also be discussed in public meetings and the public will have the opportunity to provide input.

As it has been stated, this is a process that will take time and all of the answers will not be given in one single day.  The Charter Review Committee has much more information to study and prepare as part of the Charter, the financial aspect is only one piece.

Metro government: How Brooks McCabe envisions it

Sen. Brooks McCabe has been praised and pilloried on this blog, in the paper and elsewhere for pushing consideration of metro government. We asked McCabe to spell out how he envisions metro government in Kanawha County in as much detail as possible. Here’s what he came up with:

What Is Metro Government, An Example

By Brooks F. McCabe, Jr.

As we discuss the prospect of metro government with Charleston and Kanawha County, certain questions continually arise.  What is the plan?  What does it mean to me?  What are the benefits for the community?  Is it worth the cost?  Trying to answer these questions, even at this mccabe_brooks.jpgearly stage in the process, can be helpful to frame the discussion.

The plan for metro government will be finalized in a proposed charter which will be voted on by the residents of Charleston and Kanawha County.  To pass, it needs a majority vote by those voting within the Charleston city limits and by those outside of the city limits, whether as part of another municipality or from the unincorporated areas of the county.

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Metro government: More answers from Louisville

Remember the Q&A from the metro government forum earlier this month? Some of those questions were directed to Louisville, Ky., Mayor Jerry Abramson. His office has since sent responses to those questions, and Jennifer Sayre, deputy county manager of Kanawha County, passed them on to us:

louisville_kentucky_seal.jpgFrom: Shannon Tivitt, Chief of Staff, Louisville Metro

RE: Questions and Answers

Our staff has researched your questions about merger of city and county government in Louisville and tried to provide helpful answers. Thank you again for the opportunity to share our success story with your community.

  1. Did you/Do you have any smaller communities that refused to merge? If so, what problems?

The merger statute did not dissolve the 80 or so small suburban cities within Louisville Metro. These citizens are part of Louisville Metro, receive city services and pay city taxes as other residents of the former county did.

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In reading the Brookings report “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel Prosperity” and writing Wednesday’s summary of it, one question kept bugging me:

brookings3.JPGWhich comes first, metro prosperity or metro government?

Several of the metropolitan areas cited in the report have merged governments or functions. Metro government proponents in Kanawha County cite this report in support of merging governments into a metro system here.

The report clearly spells out that metropolitan areas, no matter their form of government, have urban centers whose economic fortunes are intertwined with their surrounding areas. Metro areas parlay innovation, human capital and infrastructure into more opportunities, employment and wealth.

But does that mean if you form a merged metropolitan government, prosperity will follow?

I asked the report’s author Alan Berube, senior fellow and research director at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, in short, if economic prosperity is the cause of metro government rather than the result? Here’s his answer:

 “I think your inclination is correct — creating a metro government in Charleston will not magically produce the collection of underlying economic assets that make large metropolitan areas such powerful players in the national and global economy — innovative firms, educated and skilled workers, modern and efficient infrastructure, high-quality sustainable places.

“Yet you shouldn’t overlook the outsized economic contribution that the Charleston region already makes in the WV context.  As the largest metropolitan area in the state (and the 147th largest in the nation), the Charleston, WV MSA contains 17% of the state’s population, 20% of the state’s jobs, and generates almost 24% of the state’s GDP.  So like most metro areas, Charleston already “punches above its weight.” (See here for stats)  Note that this represents the contribution of the whole metro area: Kanawha County plus Boone, Clay, Lincoln and Putnam counties.

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The case for nurturing metropolitan areas


The map above is from “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity,” a2007 report by Brookings’  Metropolitan Policy Program. It shows the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas by employment in 2005. Note the conspicuous lack of dots anywhere in West Virginia.

State Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, cites this report support of forming a metro government for Charleston and Kanawha County, something he has been talking about for years.

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Metro government: Forum Q and A

At a July 8 forum on metro government featuring Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Kanawha residents submitted questions to be answered later. Below are answers provided by Kanawha County Commission staff. The county has also  posted them on the county’s web site.

Metro Government Forum Questions


1. Will each council representative have equal voice – one vote per representative? Or would it be based on population?

The council representatives will be elected in districts that would be established based on equal populations. Thus, each vote will represent about the same number of people.  The size of the district will be decided via the Charter Review Committee that will be appointed once a resolution is passed by the Commission and City of Charleston or a petition is signed by 25% of the voters of Kanawha County and 25% of the voters of the City of Charleston requesting that Metro Government be evaluated.

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