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Oldmanladyluck

Cleveland and county merge?

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Welcome to the city of Metro Cleveland. We're new, but we suspect you've heard of us.

We're the largest city in Ohio, by far. With 1.3 million residents, we're the sixth-largest city in America. Right back in the Top 10.

Our freshly consolidated city covers 459 square miles on the Lake Erie shore. Our economic development authority, enriched through regional cooperation, wields the power to borrow a whopping $500 million.

So, yes, America, we have a few plans.

How do you like us now?

Merging Cleveland and Cuyahoga County into a single super- city is only one example of "new regionalism" being discussed across the country. In fact, it illustrates one of the most aggressive and seldom-used strategies to revive a metropolitan area by eliminating duplicated services, sharing tax dollars across political boundaries and planning with a regional view.

At the other end of the spectrum stand places like present- day Cleveland a tired city with rigid boundaries watching helplessly as its wealth and jobs drain away.

In between are dozens of regions where city and suburbs agreed to plan new industries, or began sharing taxes, or staked out "green lines" to slow sprawl and encourage investment in urban areas cooperative strategies aimed at lifting the whole region.

Some dreams came true and others did not. Regional government does not solve every problem or achieve overnight success, experts caution. But the evidence suggests it allows cities like Cleveland to do something not dared here in a long time. It allows them to dream.

Dream big.

"Regional government would let Cleveland compete in the new economy," said Bruce Katz, a specialist in metropolitan planning for the Brookings Institution.

"Overnight, we'd become a national player," said Mark Rosentraub, dean of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

"These ideas are not crazy," insists Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state senator and one of the nation's best-known proponents of regional planning. "Regionalism is centrist. It's happening. Ohio is one of the few industrialized states that has not done anything."

Orfield is often credited with popularizing new regionalism through his 1997 book, "Metropolitics." It details regional partnerships he fostered in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, strategies like tax sharing.

In 1969, the seven counties surrounding the Twin Cities began sharing taxes from new business and industry, pooling the money and giving it to the communities that needed it most.

Designed to revive the cities, the plan worked so well that Minneapolis now sends taxes to its suburbs.

These days, a newer model of regionalism is drawing policy planners and mayors to northern Kentucky. Louisville merged with its home county last year to form the Louisville/ Jefferson County Metro Government, becoming America's 23rd-largest city as Cleveland slipped to 34th.

Much of the messy work of merging city and county departments remains, but Louisville Mayor Jerry E. Abramson said his community is already enjoying cost savings and something more rising self-esteem.

Louisville residents had brooded as civic rivals Nashville and Indianapolis used regional cooperation to lure jobs, people and major-league sports teams. Fearful of being left forever behind, voters approved a dramatic merger that had been rejected twice before.

"I think people saw that those cities were moving ahead more quickly," Abramson said. "We decided we would do better speaking with one voice for economic growth."

History suggests such unity would not come easy to Northeast Ohio. Look at a detailed map of Ohio's most populous county, Cuyahoga, and you'll see a kaleidoscope of governments: one county, 38 cities, 19 villages, two townships, 33 school districts, and dozens of single-minded taxing authorities.

The idea of huddling them behind a single quarterback is not new. At least six times since 1917, voters rejected plans for regional government, spurning the most recent reform plan in 1980.

"You know why? People like small-town atmosphere," said Faith Corrigan, a Willoughby historian who raised her family in Cleveland Heights. "It's been said Cleveland is the largest collection of small towns in the world."

Any effort at civic consensus in Northeast Ohio also means bridging a racial divide, which helped to defeat the last three reform efforts. Black civic leaders suspected a larger, whiter city would dilute their hard- won influence and political power. Those sentiments remain.

"Yes, we're fearful of less representation," said Sabra Pierce Scott, a Cleveland City councilwoman who represents the Glenville neighborhood, which is mostly black. "It's taken us a long time to get here."

Meanwhile, residents of wealthy suburbs may see little to gain by sharing taxes with Cleveland, let alone giving up the village council.

"I think it's almost a fool's dream to think you could even accomplish it," said Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley.

Yet opposition to regional government is softening. Recently, Urban League director Myron Robinson told his board members that regional cooperation could give black children access to better schools and should be discussed.

Mayors of older suburbs, facing their own budget woes, are questioning the wisdom of paying for services that might be efficiently shared, like fire protection and trash collection.

And Cleveland business leaders, many of whom live in the suburbs, are emerging as some of the strongest supporters of regional sharing and planning. They say a strong city is essential to the region's prosperity and that Cleveland cannot rise alone.

For models of what might work, they look to any one of a dozen metropolitan areas that forged regional partnerships in recent decades and to a few impassioned local believers.

"If I were God for a day," CSU's Rosentraub declares, he would simply merge the city and county bonding powers behind a planning agency with teeth. He would create a $500 million revolving development fund, big enough to launch the kinds of projects that change skylines.

That kind of cooperation, Rosentraub said, would also send a message across the land. We're big. We're regional. We're working together.

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I can't imagine Boston soon annexing any of the cities around it for all the same reasons stated in the article. People fear a loss of local control and a degradation of services. The reality is that the whole area would be better off with a stronger metropolitan government as would the Cleveland area.

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I can't imagine Boston soon annexing any of the cities around it for all the same reasons stated in the article. People fear a loss of local control and a degradation of services. The reality is that the whole area would be better off with a stronger metropolitan government as would the Cleveland area.

I agree. There is NO WAY the citizens of the Detroit suburbs would ever merge with the city of Detroit. I simply cannot imagine the citizens of the brand new suburban areas west of the city merging themselves with the city. A lot of it is an image thing. Some of the worst Detroit bashers actually live in the suburbs of Detroit (although most have probably never even set foot in the city). They would not merge unless there was some sort of benefit to doing so, such as expanded services, but these communities already provide all these things themselves. Also, as you mentioned, people fear a loss of local control. And I don't think many people would vote to be governed by the inefficent Detroit city council and governmental system.

Even if this were not the case, there is yet another problem: Detroit's northern city limits are also the northern boundary of the county. In Michigan, cities cannot cross county lines, and the largest portion of metro lies in the county north of Detroit. The only cities I could see merging with Detroit are Highland Park & Hamtramck, two old suburbs that are actually surrounded by the city of Detroit. They already share city services, and the finances aren't looking too good, so I could see the citizens of those two cities voting for a merger. This would add about 40,000 people to the city, and change the city borders for the first time in about 75 years.

Seeing that this would never happen, but realizing that the entire metro region needed to work together, the Southeast Council of Michigan Governments (SEMCOG) was formed. However this is unfairly weighted to the suburb's advantage. So I don't know what will be next....the metro needs SOMETHING though.

While we're on the subject of annexations & city-county mergers, it might be worth noting that in Michigan, all land is incorporated into cities or charter townships (which work just like cities - they have their own governments), so unlike many areas, especially in the south, we cannot go annexing all of our unicorporated land to boost city population, since unincorporated land doesn't exist in the state.

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In Massachusetts, the counties are almost figments of our imaginations, but on Cape Cod there is some regional government which regulates regional growth. The Cape is a peninsula which makes it a distinct geographic region, and the Cape relies on a single source aquifer for it's drinking water, so the action of one town affects all towns. Every so often a town will grumble about leaving the Cape Cod Commission, but it does it's job pretty well. There is also a regional Land Bank which puts a portion of proceeds from real estate transactions into a fund for open space purchases. It is possible for regions to create regional government, without fully giving up their individual independence.

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In Massachusetts, the counties are almost figments of our imaginations

Sounds like Michigan. Our government is highly localized. After all, the entire state is divided up into 6 mile by 6 mile townships, all of which have their own governments. I'm not sure exactly what the county governments here actually do though. LOL. Of course this system has its pros and cons.

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Over the last 10 years this type of merger has happened in many major Eastern Canadian cities, including the two largest cities in the country:

Toronto

Hamilton

Ottawa

Kingston (I think)

Gatineau

Montreal

Halifax (I think)

...and probably a few others I can't think of. I don't know the case with all the other cities, but in Toronto an overwhelming majority of the populace was against it. Every government that was to be merged (and ended up being merged) was also against it. In the end though, the province decided it was going to have the guts to go through with it whether any of the citizens or local governments wanted it or not. Nobody got a say, so nobody was able to stop it. The provincial government said it was going to merge the Metro into one city and it followed through.

I suspect the vast majority of the citizens and local governments in all these other merged cities were also against their city's mergers. I don't know this for certain though.

In the end, it turned out to be a good decision to merge Toronto from 5 cities and 1 borough into 1 city of 2.4 million people. I'm not certain of all the other cities, but you never hear anyone complain about these mergers, so I assume everyone is happy with them.

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As a historic footnote, though Boston annexed a few of its neighbors in the late 19th century. The state of Massachusetts went as far as to create a new Norfolk county from a part of Suffolk, so that people on the south shore wouldn't be governed by the immigrant masses in Boston. (the old Norfolk county was the Hampton area of present day New Hampshire)

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The thing with city mergers in Canada is that when the government says "let's merge all these cities" they just do it, the citizens don't have any say at all. In Michigan, the citizens of the community that wants to merge must hold a special election which must pass before the merger can occur.

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That's true. American citizens have far more control over local issues than those in other countries. They can vote on public transit, highways, extension of utility lines, etc. In other countries people vote in the governments and then the governments do what they want. In the United States large-scale decisions are almost micromanaged by the general populace.

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