Financial pressures should spark shared service discussions.
Relatively soon decisions likely will be made over consolidation discussions for fire services in Janesville, Milton and the Town of Milton, according to reporting from our sister paper The Gazette in Janesville.
The usual concerns are on the table, both pro and con, relating to everything from costs to training to administration to potential loss of local identity.
Without knowing where the final pieces will fall, we give credit and praise to all involved for a willingness to talk about doing things differently. Such discussions made sense before the pandemic. In today’s challenging environment, it’s just plain silly not to be thinking about how to deliver government services in new ways.
A couple weeks ago, in this space, we argued that local government budget-builders should be starting the task with a serious search for ways to spend less. Municipalities and school districts rely heavily on state shared revenues and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has estimated tax receipts could be $2 billion less than previously anticipated. Barring a miracle, that would mean resources allocated to municipalities and schools could come in considerably lower.
For starters that should mean spending limits, hiring freezes, possible pay or hours reductions and more should be on the table. It has become the norm in the private sector and government cannot be immune to the fiscal pressures.
Likewise, this creates an opportunity to take a hard look at how services are delivered, including across jurisdictions. Is it possible to deliver the same services—maybe even better—with cost efficiencies by cooperating and seeking ways to break down artificial political barriers?
There will be no better time to tackle such questions than now, when every government service provider will be hard pressed to pay for what people expect.
Police. Fire. Water. Sewer. Public works. Schools. All of it deserves consideration, not because anybody is doing anything wrong, but because both the immediate and long-term future challenges policy-makers to be more creative and more efficient with taxpayer resources.