Smart government. Shared resources.

Gretchen Tegeler | President, Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa

The Idea: Metro governments should direct a minimal portion of the potential proceeds from local option sales tax to identify and expand support for shared services.

Most Iowans like and trust their local governments. Even though we have lots of them (yes, with all the associated inefficiencies), we value the direct access and accountability they provide, and the sense of local identity they give. It’s not surprising that past efforts to merge local governments have met resistance. As we perceive more chaos and less control in other levels of government, perhaps we may want to hang on even more.

Fortunately, local governments don’t have to merge in order to capture many of the benefits of collaboration and shared service delivery. When local governments retain their structures but join together to do something through agreement, it can often be an effective way to improve services or reduce costs, and sometimes both. This is why the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa and the Greater Des Moines Partnership have worked so hard to encourage and accelerate the incidence of these practices, and local governments have responded.

We can point to many good examples in the metro. Just recently the Business Record reported that the cities of Clive and Urbandale announced their fire/EMS departments will begin operating on a “closest unit response” basis, meaning the responder will come from the closest station even if it is located in a community other than the location of the caller. When a life is at stake, no one cares whose name is on the vehicle. Kudos to those who put in the effort to figure out how to make this work. It is just the latest example of many good, smaller-scale efforts that we hope will continue to materialize.

With the base of collaboration that has already been built among local governments in Central Iowa, it’s time to go to the next level. We can capitalize on what’s been learned, and make Central Iowa known for getting the absolute best value for the collective tax dollar. Competition for employers and employees is no longer from the community next door, but other urban areas. Central Iowa has already become an attractive location for its quality of life and services. Think what we could become with greater focus and commitment to projects that result in noticeable improvements and/or cost savings in a core municipal service for Des Moines and its suburbs.

How can this be accomplished? Under the leadership of the Capital Crossroads Governance Committee, 16 cities,Polk and Warren counties,and the Taxpayers Association are already jointly funding the purchase of services to help develop and implement shared services projects. It is enough to “seed” a couple of smaller projects each year.

Next March, at least two communities in Central Iowa will vote on the local option sales tax. What if these communities, and any others that vote now or in the future, agreed to direct a minimal portion of their proceeds to expand support for shared services, while specifically identifying opportunities they will explore.

The resources enough to obtain full-time, dedicated expertise in shared services could build upon the foundation that already exists. The expanded capacity could be incorporated into one of several existing entities: Capital Crossroads; attached to the Metro Advisory Council (a group of elected officials from across the metro) in the form of a dedicated resource; or become part of the mission of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Citizens expect that all tax resources be used to produce the best possible value, and they certainly expect it to be the case before more taxes are requested. And it’s

actually fun to think about what might be possible with sustained effort and resources.

Imagine if we combined resources into a metro major crimes unit to ensure the most experienced, state-of the-art resources are

immediately brought to bear no matter where a homicide or other major crime occurs.

Or, building on the Clive-Urbandale initiative, we develop a metrowide fire/EMS closest response agreement; or a metrowide trails maintenance operation; or a metrowide neighborhood amenity service that enables cost-sharing of arborists, landscape architects, stormwater drainage engineers, or even streetlamp design and purchasing.

It’s possible if we keep thinking as a metro area and not as one of 17 cities in Central Iowa. With just a small increase in resources, I think we can get a phenomenal return in our quality of life. >