Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.
Continuing state budget problems, combined with shrinking tax bases and the reduction in federal aid work together to put local governments in long-term fiscal crisis. The responses of local governments to this fiscal crunch have significant consequences for community growth and well-being. Simply scaling back may do long-term harm to community economic sustainability. One alternative to cutting services is to creatively “do more with less.” And one of the best ways to do more with less is to work together. Interlocal cooperation in its many forms represents a key way local governments can work together (with other local governments) to do more with less.
In previous posts I have introduced videos that highlighted local governments collaborating in various ways. The first highlighted public-private partnerships for economic development in Wayne County, North Carolina. The second told the story of a complex public-private and multi-jurisdictional collaboration to develop infrastructure in a rural community. The third (and final) video from this project I undertook with colleagues for the Local Elected Leaders Academy (LELA) highlights the efforts of leaders from Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to build a culture of collaboration across the two communities and in Wilkes County generally.
The video highlights the importance of interlocal cooperation specifically as a strategy to do more for less and maximize public resources in a region. Interlocal cooperation can take many forms as demonstrated in the video, from simple resource sharing to more complex agreements that involve pooling resources. The impact of these decisions to work together goes well beyond the immediate bottom line of the local governments. In many cases, the collaborative behavior has short and long-term impacts on community development (particularly in developing social capital across traditional boundaries) and on economic development. One success highlighted in the video was NCDOT locating a state-of-the-art “green” welcome center in Wilkes County–something that could not have happened had the two towns and the county not collaborated on providing the infrastructure necessary to build it.
In the end though, what the Wilkesboro-North Wilkesboro case emphasizes is the reality of the whole truly being more than the sum of its parts. Over the years the towns have worked together in ways small and large. The benefits of working together though manifest themselves in myriad ways beyond what can be shown in a budget document. Their successes have bred more success and their culture of collaboration is enabling the broader community to move forward in a way not possible in the past when they viewed each other more as competitors. And that is perhaps the greatest lesson from the Wilkesboro – North Wilkesboro story, that rural communities cannot afford to see their neighbors as competitors. Rather they should view each other as partners and find creative ways to leverage their different resources and talents to develop the broader (regional) community.
I hope you’ll check out this video if you haven’t already and use the comment section to share your thoughts about it and/or your experiences with interlocal cooperation.