The Register-Guard printed my essay today, headlined: ”Combine government efforts to gain efficiency.” (link here)
The text of the guest viewpoint follows:
Combine government efforts to gain efficiency
BY PAT FARR
Published: February 3, 2013 12:00AM, Today
The cities of Eugene and Springfield are in the process of merging their fire departments. Many of the same benefits obtained from the fire merger could be pursued by consolidating other local government efforts.
Reasons for the fire merger abound, including:
1) Eliminating boundaries that could hinder fire and medical emergency responses.
2) Standardizing equipment used in the field, allowing different crews to hook up to each other’s hardware as well as keeping a single inventory of replacement and backup parts.
3) Streamlining the command structure to reduce administrative overhead.
4) Ensuring the availability of life-saving services with faster response times to more addresses.
The bottom line is this: The people of Eugene and Springfield will be safer, while money spent on fire and EMT services is optimized.
Compare that approach with this recent development: The city of Eugene is embarking on creating a committee to study homelessness. The group is slated to be a standing committee of the City Council. This committee is overdue and will essentially be a clearinghouse for needed services.
Its aim will be to study homelessness in Eugene by:
1) Examining local ordinances that affect homeless individuals and families and comparing Eugene with other similar cities.
2) Keeping abreast of emerging issues.
3) Considering specific requests and recommendations from the public.
4) Providing the community an education and outreach component regarding homelessness and homeless services.
The standing committee will consist of seven to nine members who will represent public safety officials, service provider organizations, the faith community, business interests, the city of Eugene Human Rights Commission and others. It is well-intentioned work, and it will be good.
It will be good, that is, if it is coordinated with a similar committee that is being formed by Lane County. The Lane County committee is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD provides Lane County with federal money for housing assistance, among other things, and in order to grant certain parts of the funding, HUD is requiring Lane County to establish a new council on homelessness. This council will have an almost identical composition and set of goals.
Both groups are in the conceptual stage. If the two committees end up duplicating efforts — or, worse, competing against each other for time and money — valuable human service assets will be wasted and the end result is likely to be compromised.
An opportunity exists for the two committees to either combine with a single charge, or to coordinate their efforts in order to complement the other committee’s work.
Additional examples of duplicated committee work exist throughout the region. In some cases, nonprofit organizations are working on a particular issue while at the same time a well-meaning government jurisdiction identifies the same concern and forms a task force, effectively duplicating the work — and perhaps doubling the cost. At other times committees are formed to study a condition that has been previously studied, needlessly replicating the work and expense. Locally we have a number of established intergovernmental commissions that are intended to consolidate and coordinate efforts. But government has not always been expert in allowing them to do so.
For instance, there is an intergovernmental Human Services Commission, which consists of elected officials from Lane County, Eugene and Springfield. One of its main functions is to effectively distribute available funds to the most effective service providers. But it is not always unilaterally supported by the represented government bodies. For instance, City Council members are often reminded that the HSC is the best way to address local human service needs.
Other commissions and committees consisting of multi-jurisdictional staff members and elected officials can be used effectively to optimize the precious, ever-diminishing resources that are available. These committees address housing needs, economic development, public safety and more. These committees are often duplicated elsewhere locally.
Additionally, the Lane Council of Governments provides services to all cities and school boards in the county. Under the leadership of its recently-appointed director, Brenda Wilson, LCOG has a chance to reach new heights in efficient service and resource use.
As Lane County and its cities enter a new year with a new mix of councilors and board members, we should also enter a new era of coordination of services. That approach will allow us to identify ways to increase efficiency and provide higher levels of service without needless duplicated spending.
Pat Farr, a former Eugene city councilor, represents north Eugene on the Lane County Board of Commissioners.