Counties profit from doing others’ work
Just as some individuals have turned to moonlighting to supplement their income during the recession, the same could be said for some county governments. Providing contract services to cities supplies some counties with another revenue stream and has even helped improve their operations.
“Counties are becoming more entrepreneurial and looking for additional ways to do that. And, of course, municipalities are looking for ways to reduce their expenses,” says Leonard Matarese, director of Public Safety Services for the Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Public safety, solid waste and public works are the most common services cities contract with counties to provide, according to the Washington-based National Association of Counties.
Contract road services have been a boon to King County, Wash., says Linda Dougherty, director of the county’s roads division. The county of 1.9 million residents provides $17.6 million in annual contract work to 37 cities, including Seattle.
The contract road services program allows the county to maintain an extensive equipment fleet and 600 full-time positions, many of which would be seasonal positions otherwise, Dougherty says. “It really allows us to realize purchasing economies of scale,” she says. “These large fleets of heavy equipment enable us to provide a more regional level of response during emergency situations.”
Providing contract services comes with other benefits, says San Mateo County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office Investigations Bureau Commander Lt. Ray Lunny. San Mateo’s sheriff serves the cities of Woodside and Portola Valley, which differ greatly in socioeconomic makeup from the rest of the county, Lunny says. “I think when you’re able to work with diverse communities, your personnel gets better with resolving issues,” he says.
The arrangement also eliminates jurisdictional boundaries, says Broward County, Fla., Sheriff Al Lamberti, whose department provides contract law enforcement for 14 of the county’s 31 cities. That can yield more coordination in investigating cross-county criminal cases, Lamberti says. “I’ve been a law enforcement officer for 32 years, and I’ve never known a criminal to carry a map,” he says.
Autumn Giusti is a New Orleans-based freelance writer.