The Marin County Civil Grand Jury begins its latest report with a simple question: Who knows how many local government agencies exist in Marin County?
To the jury’s surprise, that’s a bit of a trick question, as there is no agency that tracks such things.
“The jury has been both bewildered that no one knows how many government agencies there are and shocked at the huge numbers of suspected government entities,” the jury said in its report, “Preschoolers Learn to Share: Can Governments?”
The jury’s investigation turned up approximately 50 special districts, including sewer and fire districts, as well as 19 school districts, many of which offer duplicate services that could be shared in some way, particularly during difficult economic times.
The report cites the recent merger of the Twin Cities and San Anselmo police departments as a good example, with those agencies collectively saving approximately $500,000 as a result of the move.
The report also uses the fight over the Southern Marin Fire department’s proposed annexation of Sausalito’s fire services as an example of “unnecessary or even exorbitant cost increases for Marin residents. when Sausalito voters overwhelmingly approved the annexation as a ballot measure.
But the jury stops short of calling for outright consolidation among agencies, acknowledging that there are numerous obstacles to consolidation, including the difference in the financial health of each district, the job losses that would come as a result of consolidation and agencies’ interest in maintaining jurisdictional control, among others.
The report didn’t recommend specific service-sharing arrangements, but rather outlined a number of moves that would help the situation:
- The county should immediately publish on its website a list of all of the special districts and joint powers authorities and their contact information, “to improve the public’s awareness of and access to all those taxing entities.”
- City and town councils and the Marin County Board of Supervisors should require annual reports from their top officials to identify opportunities for shared services.
- When facing major capital expenses on things like facilities and equipment, every government agency should seek out other entities to share the use and costs of those items.
For more info on the Grand Jury’s report, it is attached at right.