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Delivering Local Services through Interlocal Cooperation: Reasons and Implications

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Agustin Leon-Moreta and Omowonuola Fayemiro
July 17, 2021

Interlocal cooperation is an alternative tool local governments can use to deliver services through cooperation with other local governments. Such systems are not useful everywhere, but in some regions can be incredibly useful and effective. As an illustration, this article will focus on the case of interlocal cooperation for sharing local services between municipalities in a fragmented metropolitan region.

The most substantive motivation for interlocal collaboration is to provide local governments with greater capacity to deliver services. For example, a local government may decide to contract with a larger city to obtain water and wastewater systems because it can be easier and less costly to both parties. Several factors play a role in a local government’s ability to engage in interlocal collaboration, including how a local jurisdiction is organized, the geographically feasible extension of infrastructure systems, contracting protocols and transaction costs.

Local governments must have the legal authority to engage in collaborative agreements. Local governments generally depend on state legislation enabling interlocal agreements for service delivery. In addition, they need to have internal policies that are consistent with service provision via interlocal agreements. When state and local policies are consistent and available, local governments are more likely to cooperate for delivering services.

One community factor that can affect interlocal cooperation is the different demands for services across municipalities. For example, a central city has a different need for services as compared to a newly incorporated suburb. Further, distinct municipalities will have different capacities to deliver services. Typically, central cities already have invested resources that cover the fixed costs of service delivery systems. By contrast, new municipalities often are very small, although some of them are affluent, and may be able to fund specific services such as open space or parks. But a small municipality likely will face serious difficulties to provide larger infrastructure systems such as water systems. For delivering utility systems, a small municipality will likely look to a larger city or perhaps a special district to obtain infrastructure services.

Importantly, interlocal collaboration offers multiple benefits. First, it supports a variety of functional service areas. Both general government and enterprise activities can be delivered via interlocal cooperation including services such as police (cities often collaborate in order to carry out law enforcement activities) and utility services.

Interlocal collaboration also may save money as the municipality providing services is usually compensated for sharing them and the municipality receiving services usually obtains them at a lower cost. State governments also may support cooperation by providing grant funding for local services, enabling municipalities to pay for services by combining funding sources

Interlocal cooperation is a critical public management tool local governments should explore to deliver services efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, it may help local governments deliver services equitably and eliminate fiscal disparities. As noted above, state governments have a critical role to play in enabling feasibility particularly through grant funding.


Authors:

Agustin Leon-Moreta is assistant professor at the University of New Mexico School of Public Administration. He received a Ph.D. in public administration and policy from the Askew School at Florida State University. His research has appeared in Public Administration Review, the American Review of Public Administration, Urban Studies, State and Local Government Review, and Public Administration Quarterly. He can be reached at [email protected]

Omowonuola Fayemiro is a public administration doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research interest centers primarily on public and nonprofit management, non-governmental organizations in Nigeria and intersectoral collaborations. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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