December 17, 2009

Abstract Consolidation Polls Well in RI, but....

Marc Comtois

According to the new Brown U. poll:

Gov. Carcieri has proposed a high-powered commission to study the feasibility of consolidating or regionalizing public services, like education, public safety, and other municipal services. The argument is that there is too much duplication of services among the state’s 39 municipalities. Do you agree or disagree the following services should be consolidated?

Q32. School Administration? Agree 64.3%; Disagree 25.3%; DK/NA 10.4%

Q33. Police? Agree 51.1%; Disagree 37.8%; DK/NA 11.1%

Q34. Fire? Agree 54.8%; Disagree 34.6%; DK/NA 10.6%

Q35. Public Works? Agree 69.2%; Disagree 20.8%; DK/NA 10.0

Q36. All Services? Agree 53.0%; Disagree 33.7%; DK/NA 13.3

However, as pollster Victor Profughi (he didn't do the Brown poll--ed.) stated on the John DePetro Show this AM, how many would approve of consolidation when it is their school/police/fire department being streamlined? It sounds good in the abstract, but how will the neighbors feel when the fire station across the street gets consolidated with another a couple miles away? Or two half-filled neighborhood schools get split up and the kids spread around to 4 or 5 schools? That's what real consolidation means--and it's done all the time in the rest of the country--but I'm not so sure Rhode Islanders are ready to embrace that kind of change when it happens on their doorstep.

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There are only two options here:

Amputate or let the patient die.

That's where we are.

Smith Hill's solution is "Let's tax them some more before they die."


Posted by: Sol Venturi at December 17, 2009 9:42 AM

I think the arguments against consolidation are good ones, but I think rationalization may be in order. How many fire stations does a state this size require? They already have mutual aid pacts. How many SWAT teams does RI need?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at December 17, 2009 10:13 AM

Marc's point about what if its your "x" being consolidated is a good one. It's the same as the reason why the General Assembly members keep getting re-elected. Everyone hates the GA, but "my guy" is good.

NO!! YOUR guy is the problem! My guy IS the problem. Especially when my guy is Dan Connors. Anyone want to help in either running against him or helping to campaign against him? It's time to get started. The election of 2010 can either be groundbreaking or break the camel's back...

Posted by: Patrick at December 17, 2009 10:40 AM

Our own lives are complex, running our communities more complex and running anything as large as the State of Rhode Island incredibly complex. Good government starts at home. I have enough trouble being the mayor of my own house. (first husband to be more accurate)

Justin has rightly stated, paraphrasing here, consolidation of government makes a complex situation more so. Imagine the number of upper level managers in a consolidated state government that controls all thirty-nine cities and towns. Imagine the red tape.

Trying to fix this problem with one swing is ridiculous. It can be fixed, and will be fixed only if people whose only interest is a better place to live step up. Too many of our leaders either want it all now, or want it all for themselves. We need a foundation, ours has crumbled from the weight of near sighted polititians and their complacent constituants.

Start with toilet paper. Buy a ton and sell it to all the cities and towns, making a small profit at the state level. Next month add copy paper. The month after that pencils and pens. Ten years from now the state will have consolidated all purchasing, then can move forward.

It's not going to happen overnight, but it can happen if we make it.

Posted by: michael at December 17, 2009 12:50 PM

For over 200 years State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations with its 39 cities and towns plus 37 school districts has been operating very well until this current recession.

All of a sudden there are calls for consolidation to fix the problems.

What problems?

I don't think under the current RI state constitution you can consolidate local government services.

A constitutional convention would have to be called.

Then you'd have to get all of the local cities and towns to agree to get rid of their local governments and school departments and merge with other cities and towns electing all new county seat of government.

Consolidation of government services (city and town) might work in RI if RI were to change to a county seat of government (Providence, Kent, Washington and combine Bristol and Newport counties). A mayor and city council for each county, one school district for whole state with one superintendent.

Hawaii is larger than RI spread across 1,600 miles of Pacific ocean with over 100 islands and it works fine under a county seat of government with 4 counties; 4 mayors and 4 city councils; 4 fire and police departments, 1 school district, 1 superintendent, 1 governor and 1 general assembly.

One note, Hawaii communities have satellite government offices spread out across the islands and also there are neighborhood boards to help govern and bring problems to county or state representative attentions. There is an awful lot of government transparency and extremely high ethics standards.

Posted by: Ken at December 17, 2009 5:17 PM

The constitution would not have to be changed. The Article governing home rule for cities and towns specifically mentions the general assembly having the ability to govern the cities and towns however which way they please, so long as it affects all cities and towns equally and that it does not affect the form of the town or city government. That means a local town or city council can still remain and retain authority to appoint planning and zoning boards, approve liquor and business licenses and so forth - while basic services such as police, fire, public works, code enforcement, utilities, parks and recreation, and such can be centralized into larger, statewide (or countywide) agencies that will have the ability to provide better services at a lower price because they can scale their operations to a higher level.

Posted by: Bob at December 17, 2009 5:55 PM


If RI is going to go the route of consolidation then go all the way not 1/4 or 1/2 way!

Totally convert to county seat of government and get rid of all the current local governments and the fact that the GA has their fingers stuck in running local government. Let the GA be tasked with running the state only.

That is why you would have a county mayor and city council to run the local county.

This is one of RI problems, the state GA and governor have somehow migrated into running local city and town government like Roman dictators!

Trying to keep 39 city and town councils active while consolidating defeats the purpose.

Posted by: Ken at December 17, 2009 6:24 PM

"Start with toilet paper."

Okay... toilet paper...

Let's say it's about fifty cents a roll, and let's say you save ten cents per roll by buying in quantity (that's a 20% savings per roll-not bad). How much TP would you have to buy to save 1 million dollars?

I'll do the math for you:

Ten rolls saves you one dollar, so ten million rolls would save you a million dollars. Great!

Now we only need to save about $999 million more and we are all set.

Oh... and by the way those 10 million rolls need to be stored somewhere.

I know, we can store them where they are needed most... the State House. But seriously, there are about 100 rolls per cubic yard. That means you would need a space that could hold 100,000 cubic yards… What a great use for the RICC.

Now let's add in the cost to distribute the TP to our 39 C&T... (trucks, fuel, manpower, logistics, etc.) and there you have it... small thinking at its preposterous worst.

While small minds debate lunacy the patient is dying.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at December 18, 2009 2:29 PM

Hey, Sol, Michael's overarching point is, whether big or small, let's stop talking and get started on consolidation.

Further, Michael has also urged consolidation on a big item: check out his Engaged Citizen post from late October on the informal "regionalization" of fire stations. It is a step that he proposes as much out of concern for public safety as for budget issues, and because - my editorial interpretation here - duh, it just makes sense.

Mutual Aid: A Simple Start to Regionalization

Posted by: Monique at December 18, 2009 9:22 PM

Lighten up, Sol, I was speaking metaphorically. And thanks Monique.

Posted by: michael at December 19, 2009 11:33 AM


We simply do not have time to play consolidation games. We need to change a $1 billion deficit into a surplus, lower taxes, and create a climate where businesses want to be so they can succeed and hire RI people.

Have you ever tried consolidating? Like most ideas it requires a lot of work. Who will do the work? Where will the money come from to build the infrastructure, plan the logistics, house the office where the people work,... I could go on and on.

Just saying something is "a good idea" does not in fact make it a good idea. Show me the numbers. And remember we need to turn around a 1$Billion.

I am not trying to offend you. I am trying to help you understand the magnitude of the situation.

"Metaphorically"-?- I don't think you mean that your toilet paper example was a metaphor, do you? It sure sounded to me that you were suggesting this effort as a first step to a consolidation model.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at December 19, 2009 12:15 PM

I started with The Providence Fire Department nineteen years ago. From day 1 I've read, and heard and had drilled into my head how my pension is unsustainable, how me and my union brethren are "pigs", how the joke is on us because the bleeding will stop and on and on.

Zero has changed. Zero. Ninteen years of big talk and zero action. Two wars, three presidents, recession, inflation, robust economy, no difference. I still hear how unsustainable the current system is.

The toilet paper thing just popped into my head as I was responding to the original post. I actually put some thought into the Engaged Citizen post Monique linked to.

I don't have the answers. I just know we need to get started.

Posted by: michael at December 19, 2009 12:50 PM
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