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When you’ve got more municipalities than dandelions, you’ve got a problem

May 25, 2018 • by Mike Zielinski, Host of The Mike Zielinski Show
Mike Zielinski

For some reason layers of local government over the years multiplied like loaves, fishes, deer ticks and spotted lanternflies in Berks County and Pennsylvania.

Perhaps it’s something in the water or the shoofly pie. Or perhaps we’re egocentric around here, wanting to be a big fish in a small pond.

Or we swapped too many horses back in the day, heeding Shakespeare’s King Richard pleading for “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Whatever transpired, municipalities manifested like some manic multiplication table.

If my math serves me correctly (it is difficult to count boxcar numbers with just two hands and 10 fingers so don’t shoot me if my numbers are not quite as accurate as weather forecasts), there are 72 municipalities in Berks County. There are 4,897 in Pennsylvania, third highest in the United States.

Only Illinois with 6,963 and Texas with 5,147 have more local government entities.

To put things into perspective, there are 90,056 units of local government in the country.

Too many layers of local governments are like having too many cooks in the kitchen.

They are duplicative in nature. Consolidation, while costly and controversial, offers long-term benefits in eliminating local government redundancies and streamlining government functions, saving taxpayer money.

Besides improved fiscal efficiencies, consolidating communities has the added benefits of mitigating urban sprawl and improving the business climate.

Granted, this is not a lollipop world. Short of going to heaven, there’s a downside to everything.

Critics of consolidation argue that combined services may lead to downsizing, which can harm the quality of service.

Others says that making government better doesn’t necessarily result in less costs. In fact, it may result in more costs because smaller local governments often provide minimal services compared to large entities.

Then again, you often get what you pay for. Increased costs may be worth increased services.

Speaking of money, and who among us doesn’t like to save money, one of the many downfalls of Pennsylvania being Balkanized into too many units of local government is redundant tax collection. Millions of dollars that could go to services or back to taxpayers go instead to the cost of collection.

The state government partially resolved that nearly a decade ago by consolidating local wage tax collection, reducing the number of collectors statewide from more than 500 to just 69 and saving millions of dollars a year.

A new law recently signed by Gov. Tom Wolf is designed to fully standardize wax tax collection statewide, which will help taxpayers by eliminating the prospect of double taxation where some municipal and school district jurisdictions overlap.

Enough of the good news. Now for the bad news. The state has yet to extend that uniformity to property tax collection, which remains choked with money-wasting redundancy across the state.

Lawmakers should address that quicker than a hiccup because of the excessive costs inherent in hyper-local property tax collection.

Hopefully someday Pennsylvania and Berks County will lose their obsession with fiefdom mania. Being bloated is no way to live, whether it’s the government or you.

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