According to the 2012 Census of Governments, there are 1046 general purpose local governments in the State of Iowa; those General Purpose governments are made of 99 counties and 947 municipalities. In addition, there are 366 independent school districts and 527 special district governments, totaling 893 special purpose local governments. All together, that equals 1,939 local governmental entities with ad valorem taxing authority in the State of Iowa.
A quick glance across states suggests that there are certainly areas of the country where there are more layers of government. However, as Governor Branstad and the Legislature continue to focus on property tax reform, and the “do more with less” political climate intensifies, all 1,939 local governments in Iowa will find that sustainability, efficiency, and efficacy are more important than ever. There will be many paths forward, but a common theme will be that we need to work harder at working together.
Internally, local governments will continue to weigh and balance transparency against efficiency. Further efforts will be made to streamline and unify management, consolidate or group like functions more closely together, and otherwise improve upon the current decision making processes to ensure that services are delivered in a highly responsive, yet cost effective manner.
Externally, local governments will double their cooperative efforts. Public-private partnerships will become increasingly common, as will intergovernmental collaborations. Geography will dictate how local governments partner with one another as neighboring communities will be most likely to have common issues, goals, economies, and demographics.
In light of these trends, the City of Van Meter is working to organize internal working relationships in a more resourceful manner. We will be adopting a Department of Public Safety this summer to ensure that police, fire, and emergency medical services are properly managed and coordinated. Further, we are working to integrate administrative and library staff into a single “storefront” where our citizens can both check out library materials and pay their utility bill.
Externally, the City of Van Meter has worked with our neighbors on a variety of projects ranging from the collection of parking fines to future land use planning. One recent example involved the Cities of Van Meter and DeSoto collaborating on a study examining the existing water quality in both communities and identifying and evaluating alternatives to improve it, including the possibility of a joint water treatment facility. A joint facility was eventually ruled out; however, the joint study was a success in so far as it demonstrated the ability of our governments to work together to solve common issues.
Moving forward, the City of Van Meter will continue to seek out partnerships, or at least relationships, to ensure that we are doing everything we can to synergize our efforts with those around us. That requires, at a minimum, that we be proactive in educating ourselves about the issues facing our neighbors and reaching out to seek common solutions.