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Introduction: Intermunicipal Cooperation and Shared Services offer an alternative to address the political fragmentation in US local government. Intermunicipal cooperation may be defined as an arrangement between two or more governments for accomplishing common goals, providing a service, or solving a mutual problem. It is one of the most useful strategies for achieving efficient and effective service delivery. Nationally, it is a more popular form of service restructuring than privatization. Shared services involves cooperation across jurisdictions for a common service. Transportation authorities or water and sewer districts are common examples. The challenge of shared services however is their single service focus and the inability to address multi-functional coordination challenges. This page highlights the relevant literature on several aspects of intermunicipal cooperation, with links to more in-depth summaries. 

Click here to view the most recent Warner publications on this subject. 

Intermunicipal Cooperation

Warner, M.E. and Hefetz, A. 2012.  "Privatization and intermunicipal contracting: the US local government experience 1992-2007," Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 30: 675-692.

  • Local government scholars are giving increasing attention to market solutions to urban service delivery. Intermunicipal contracting and privatization are two market approaches to reaching economies of scale. Using national data on over one thousand municipalities from across the United States for the 1992–2007 period, we explore the differences between intermunicipal contracting and privatization and assess how the use of these market approaches relates to efficiency, scale, and public engagement factors. Using probit models for each of four survey years (1992, 1997, 2002, 2007), we find these market solutions are only partial responses to the problem of regional coordination and exhibit important differences with respect to place, management, and political concerns. These market solutions exhibit limited efficiency, equity, and voice benefits.

Bel, G. and Warner, M.E. 2014. "Inter-municipal cooperation and costs: Expectations and evidence." Forthcoming Public Administration 2014.

  • Austerity and fiscal crisis make the search for cost saving reforms in local government more critical. While cost savings from privatization have frequently proven ephemeral, inter-municipal cooperation has been a relatively understudied reform. We analyze the literature on cost savings under cooperation and find savings are dependent on (1) the cost structure of public services, particularly those related to scale and density economies and externalities, (2) the structure of local government (size, metropolitan location, powers granted by the nation or regional state), and 3) the governance framework at the local/regional scale where cooperation varies from informal to formal. European studies give more emphasis to cost savings, while US studies focus on coordination concerns arising from the higher degree of devolution in the US local government system.

‚ÄčWarner, M.E. and Robert Hebdon. 2001 "Local Government Restructuring: Privatization and Its Alternatives," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 20(2):315-336.  

  • This article explores the complexity of government restructuring, pointing out that restructuring should not be viewed as a simple dichotomy between public and private service provision.

Foster, Kathryn. 1996. "Specialization in Government: The Uneven Use of Special Districts in Metropolitan Areas." Urban Affairs Review 31(3): 283-313.  

  • Foster assesses four alternative theoretical perspectives on the uneven use of special districts in local government service delivery. The number of special districts has increased remarkably in the past several decades, and this article is an attempt at explaining the motivations behind district use.

Warner, M.E. and A. Hefetz. 2002. "The Uneven Distribution of Market Solutions for Public Goods," Journal of Urban Affairs, 24(4): 445-459.  

  • Using national data on local government service delivery from 1992 and 1997, this article assesses the distribution of privatization and inter-municipal cooperation across localities in the metropolitan region and finds them most common among suburbs that also exhibit high income and low poverty. Thus, market solutions appear to reflect the inequality among municipalities in the metropolitan region.

Warner, M.E. and A. Hefetz. 2002 "Applying Market Solutions to Public Services: An Assessment of Efficiency, Equity and Voice," Urban Affairs Review, 38(1):70-89.  

  • This article assesses the efficacy of market solutions for metropolitan public service provision by comparing privatization with inter-municipal cooperation and evaluating each on efficiency, equity and democracy grounds.

Parks, Roger, and Ronald Oakerson. 1993. "Comparative Metropolitan Organization: Service Production and Governance Structures in St. Louis, MO, and Allegheny County, PA.Publius 23: 19-39.  

  • In this article, the authors identify and measure key structural characteristics of "fragmented" metro areas, employing a comparative study of two metropolitan city-counties: St. Louis City and County, MO, and Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), PA. They introduce a conceptual tool for measurement of production structure (horizontal versus vertical nature of service, and integration versus differentiation of governments).

Cigler, Beverly A. 1994. "Pre-Conditions for Multicommunity Collaboration." Pp. 39-58 in Toward an Understanding of Multicommunity Collaboration. AGES Staff Report 9403. Washington, DC: USDA, ERS.  

  • Cigler argues that intergovernmental collaboration can build the capacity of rural local governments, which often lack the necessary resources and expertise to adequately provide government services and conduct policy decision-making activities. However, "truly collaborative ventures" are system changing, and thus potentially threatening to existing government entities. She describes the conditions are necessary to get positive results from collaboration.

Oakerson, Ronald. 1987. "Local Public Economies: Provision, Production and Governance.Intergovernmental Perspective13:3/4, pp. 20-25.  

  • The author distinguishes provision from production. "Provision" refers to collective choices that determine goals, standards, and arrangement for service, whereas "production" means the more technical process of transforming inputs into outputs. Oakerson demonstrates the options linking provision with production: self-production, coordinated production, joint production, intergovernmental contracting, private contracting, franchising, and vouchering. Among these options, intergovernmental contracting and private contracting are the most widely practiced in the United States.

Jansen, Annica. 1994. "Multi-Community Collaboration and Linkages: A Framework for Analysis." pp. 59-76 in Toward an Understanding of Multicommunity Collaboration. AGES Staff Report 9403. Washington, DC: USDA, ERS.  

  • Jansen defines four types of intergovernmental relationships by means of local capacity (having the institutions necessary to deal with information) and centrality (having organizational linkages with the political and economical center of decision making). The author argues that when both centrality and local capacity are higher or both are absent, the relationship is stable. When there is a disparity between levels of centrality and local capacity, however, a region will seek to equalize the force.

Lyons, W.E. and D. Lowery. 1989. “Governmental Fragmentation Versus Consolidation: Five Public Choice Myths about How to Create Informed, Involved and Happy Citizens,” Public Administration Review 49(6):533-43.

Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR). 1974. "Local Government Reorganizational Issues." The Challenge of Local Government Reorganization. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.  

  • Theorists have developed various models for government service assignment, which include criteria such as polycentricity/decentralization, federation/consolidation. These models all have supporters who claim their various merits based on the criteria of efficiency, equity, public satisfaction with service, and so on. Empirical findings show that no model appears to be completely effective or without deficiencies.

Accountability Issues

Concerns about how intergovernmental arrangements can ensure accountability and equity.

Perlman, Ellen. 1993. "Secretive Governing: Authorities proliferate; So Does Possible Misconduct.City and State. March 1, pp. 9-11.  

  • This article notes that the number of special intergovernmental districts increased by 12% between 1987 and 1992. The author cites several reasons why legislative bodies choose to create special districts: 1) they are a way of skirting state constitutional limits on taxation, spending, and borrowing. 2) they enable state and local governments to appear to be cutting their budgets while continuing to ensure service provision 3) they are a tools for intergovernmental collaboration cutting across political boundaries to meet regional needs. However, due to the lack of direct public accountability, there is a high possibility of abuse such as nepotism, overpricing, and mismanagement.

Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR). 1974. "Alternative Government Structures.Government Functions and Processes: Local and Areawide. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.  

  • After evaluating many types of intergovernmental cooperation in terms of authority, efficiency, equity, and accountability, this article suggests that comprehensive reforms to existing local governments--federation, city-county consolidation, and urban county--provide an effective strategy in the area of accountability, equity and authority. Patchwork strategies--intergovernmental service agreements, functional transfers, and multipurpose areawide districts--are less effective in the area of equity and accountability.

Legal Concerns

The legal process and considerations behind decisions to implement intermunicipal cooperation.

Carpinello, George F., and Patricia E. Salkin. 1990. "Legal Processes for Facilitating Consolidation and Cooperation Among Local Government: Models from Other States." Albany, NY: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.  

  • This article introduces the legal structure and processing to facilitate cooperation, consolidation among local government entities in U.S. and a few foreign countries. The authors suggest that in order to enforce the changes more efficiently and effectively, some special preparations must be required such as giving voters a periodic opportunity to express their desire to study options.

Coon, James A. n.d. "Intergovernmental Cooperation." Local Government Technical Series. Albany, NY: Department of State.  

  • This article discusses possible reasons for considering formal intergovernmental cooperation and presents practical and legal considerations. The author points out that the desirability of cooperative efforts among governments depends on economies of scale, convenience of performing the task, distribution of natural resources, surplus physical facilities, and the need for duplication of services. In addition, the author addresses legal information needed for two types of formal cooperative agreements: service agreements and joint agreements.

Briffault, Richard. "The Law of Local Government Restructuring and Cooperation in New York."

  • In New York State, local governments have the power to cooperatively provide any facility or service they provide individually. However, actual annexation or consolidation of units of government is more difficult. The New York State legislature is limited by the Home Rule Amendment, which prevents the state legislature from make laws for annexation without the consent of voters of the affected local governments. This article discusses under what conditions the New York State legislature is limited by the Home Rule Amendment.

Experiences in New York State

Examinations of the potential benefits of regional cooperation and its applicability in New York State.

Warner, M.E. and Robert Hebdon. 2001 "Local Government Restructuring: Privatization and Its Alternatives,Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 20(2):315-336.  

  • This article explores the complexity of government restructuring, pointing out that restructuring should not be viewed as a simple dichotomy between public and private service provision.

Benjamin, Gerald and Richard Nathan. 2001. Regionalism and Realism: A Study of Governments in the New York Metropolitan Area. Washington, DC: Brookings Inst. Press.

New York State Office of the State Comptroller. 1994. "Local Government Cooperative Service Provision." Albany, NY. 

  • In this study of intermunicipal cooperation, the Office of the New York State Comptroller has provided a wealth of information, ranging from guiding legal principles to general agreement guidelines, that could facilitate a practical solution for governments seeking to improve the delivery of their services. This paper provides several pieces of advice on how best to determine whether a particular activity is suitable for intermunicipal cooperation. For example, a cost negotiation and comparison is suggested to determine whether intermunicipal cooperation could improve an activity's efficiency and effectiveness.

Liebschutz, Sarah F. 1990. "The New York Experience with Cooperation, Coordinating Structures, and Consolidation: Selected Case Studies."  

  • This article presents six case studies of intergovernmental cooperation in New York State. The examples of successful intergovernmental cooperation have the common element of emphasizing a participatory process and cooperative problem solving rather than immediately solving a concrete problem.

Benjamin, Gerald. 1990. "The Evolution of New York State's Local Government System." Albany, NY: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.  

  • This paper explains the evolutionary development of four types of local governments in New York State: counties, towns, cities and villages. The author points out that these four types of local governments have converged in their structure and powers since the Civil War, thereby increasing their similarities than their differences.

Short, John. 1990. The Contract Cookbook for Purchase of Government Service, 2nd ed. Council of State Governments and the National Association of State Purchasing Officials.

  • The author argues that contracting and purchasing is most successful when it is administered by a purchasing manager housed in a central purchasing office within a jurisdiction, as opposed to charging department heads and managers with the responsibility on an ad hoc basis. Short believes that the role of the purchasing manager is central to the success of contracting services, so there is a crucial need for purchasing managers to examine established process of purchasing and contracting and to see where there is opportunity for improvement and innovation.

The Council of State Governments, State and Local Government Purchasing, Chapter 14, "Cooperative Purchasing: Local, State and Federal Government."

  • This chapter covers the essential policies and necessary practices to form successful cooperative purchasing agreements among local and state governments. Cooperative purchasing is defined as arrangements by which two or more entities buy under the same contract or agreement. This article provides information and advice on the process of cooperative purchasing.

State Commission on the Capital Region. May 1996. "Growing Together Within the Capital Region," Draft Report. Albany, N.Y.: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.  

  • This report outlines ways local governments can work together to solve common problems by sharing information and identifying areas where cooperation would be beneficial. The authors view intermunicipal cooperation as the key to improving efficiency.

Desfosses, Helen. 1994. "Regionalization-Who Needs It?Regional Report 1, no. 1. Key Bank Center for Regional Studies (March).  

  • In the Capital Region people are discovering they need regional solutions to problems that spill over political boundaries. Regionalization refers to the growing interest among local governments and nongovernmental organizations to join force to tackle problems that defy solution within established political boundaries. This article introduces some successful examples of regionalism.

Broome County Partnership Council, Final Report. 1991. Binghamton, NY.  

  • This report details the recommendations of a task force charged with exploring opportunities for municipalities, county government, and school districts to share and consolidate their efforts to provide desired levels of service to the public in more efficient, cost effective, and quality conscious ways. It includes a number of fairly radical suggestions for consolidation of local governments.

Nathan, Richard P. "Keynote Address: Reinventing Regionalism." Regional Plan Association, April 26, 1994.  

  • Nathan gives several reasons why governmental consolidations have been part of our history and may help solving some of government's current problems.