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Shrink the Suburbs, Too?

The Detroit Free Press editorial page pushes an interesting idea this morning...

Michigan municipalities can't afford business as usual if they hope to avoid even deeper cuts in core services like police and fire and further asset losses, as well as higher local taxes and user fees. Barring a revolutionary new way to finance local government, sharing functions such as police and fire protection offers the best hope of maintaining core municipal services.

Southeast Michigan alone already has hundreds, maybe thousands, of examples of shared-service agreements and mutual aid pacts. But the region's more than 230 units of government will have to do a lot more. The financial pinch provides an ongoing incentive to reorganize government.

Many of metro Detroit's surrounding communities have tried large-scale combination of services before, of course. But the plans have too often faltered due to everything from arguments about funding to union contracts to many locals' belief that "home rule" inherently means a city/township/village has its own police and fire departments, its own library system. Still, many places could find themselves going broke trying to maintain this standard.

Which makes me wonder about a possible next step: Should some of our suburban communities consider merging? A lot of them have more schools and services than they can afford, and the area's steady population loss and declining property values aren't going to suddenly make those things cheaper. So do, say, Utica, Sterling Heights and Macomb Township really need to remain separate municipalities?

Oh, I know it would be the mother of all headaches to pull off this kind of consolidation, at least in some parts of our tri-county area. And this certainly isn't the Freep's "revolutionary new way" to underwrite local government. But given how high stakes are these days, is it worth consideration? I mean, wouldn't even a throbbing municipal migraine be better than slowly bleeding to death?

I'm not staking out a hard position on this, but just kicking around the idea. What're your thoughts? Does consolidating select suburban communities in metro Detroit make sense? Or do logistics, politics and/or economics make this idea impossible to pull off?

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