The four perspectives on interlocal relations outlined by Nice and Frederickson are: (1) the classical administrative perspective, (2) the public choice perspective, (3) the class conflict perspective, and (4) the intergovernmental perspective. The first “contends that the United States has too many local governments” (Nice and Frederickson, 202). The issues with this view are that too many small governments may not be able to achieve economies of scale, may not be able to agree on a plan of action, and citizens may not be able to hold anyone responsible for inefficient services, since there are numerous overlapping small governments.
The second perspective finds that too many small governments “is beneficial… [because] many small governments enable more people to have the policies they desire… greater size [of government] brings[s] greater cost per unit of service” (202-203). The third articulates that rich communities attract rich people and services are plentiful, while poor communities are flooded with problems due to fragmentation. The final perspective focuses on fragmentation, aggravated internal disagreements, state policies on annexation and a proliferation of special districts in order to overcome local issues.
Nice and Frederickson expound eight strategies to address the problems of too many local governments. (1) Informal cooperation is non-contractual communication between local governments and usually planning, such as road improvement, that affects surrounding local communities. (2) Service contracts are written contractual agreements between local governments, such as water agreements. However, poor communities may not be able to participate. (3) Councils of governments occur when representatives of local governments meet and discuss issue to be resolved. However, the councils generally address and solve minor issues. (4) Special districts are popular because they target a special need, such as water or education, and may independently tax citizens for revenue.
(5) Annexation and consolidation occurs when a central city usurps surrounding local governments, such as Atlanta, but is unlikely to occur in older cities, such as Detroit, because surrounding communities will veto the move. (6) County-based solutions transfers services (or one particular program, like police) from (many) cities within a county to the county government. This may increase the economies of scale and accountability. (7) Federated metropolitan government “is essentially a miniature federal system… [that] provides coordination, economies of scale and equalization of needs and resources… [but there is] great difficulty in getting it adopted” (211-212). (8) Non-local solutions “ameliorate the problems” of local governments through national or state grants or state control (213).
I prefer the intergovernmental perspective, because I think it realistically approaches and attempts to solve modern fragmentation and issues of class conflict. Today’s middle class seems to be shrinking and the intergovernmental perspective provides the most insight regarding how local government may increase efficiency and services at the local level. If you haven’t yet read Unequal Democracy or Winner-Take-All Politics, for example….