State of Local Privatization

Robert W. Poole, Jr. said that a local government could be operated by three people, a manager, a lawyer, and a secretary in his book “Cutting Back City Hall.”

So, I wanted to find out the current state of privatization in local government. The International City/County Managers Association (ICMA) has been assessing local government practices, experiences, and policies in alternative service delivery every 5 years for more than three decades.

In June 2017, ICMA partnered with Cornell University to launch an update to the Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) Survey. Paper surveys were mailed to 13,777 chief administrative officers of all municipalities with a population of over 2,500 and all counties across the United States.

Responses were received from 2,343 local governments, yielding a response rate of 17% with a 2% margin of error. The results were published in June 2019.

This survey provides insights into alternative service delivery among U.S. local governments. Key topics explored include feasibility work done by local governments on private service delivery; obstacles faced in adopting private service delivery; techniques to evaluate private service delivery, as well as shared services with other jurisdictions; and how certain services are provided within communities.

Some of the obstacles to privatization local governments claim to have run into include; Opposition from elected officials 43.2%, Opposition from local government line employees 45.8%, Opposition from department heads 24.4%, and Restrictive labor contracts/agreements 32.8%.

So, what private-sector alternative delivery systems do local governments use?

Alternative service delivery using the private sector:

Vehicle towing and storage 75.5%

Legal services 62.2%

Commercial solid waste collection 61.9%

Operation of daycare facilities  61.0%

Residential solid waste collection 56.7%

Recycling 51.9%

Electric/gas utility operation and management 50.9%

Solid waste disposal 47.4%

Operation/management of hospitals 47.1%

Information technology services  45.8%

Street tree trimming & planting 34.7%

Home health care/visiting nurse  34.7%

Street repair 33.3%

Disposal of hazardous materials 32.4%

Fleet management/vehicle maintenance  31.2%

Addiction treatment programs 30.8%

Mental health programs and facilities  28.3%

Insect/rodent control 26.7%

Facility maintenance 25.5%

Emergency medical transport/ambulance 22.2%

Operation of parking lots & garages  21.5%

Utility meter reading & billing 21.2%

Building security 21.2%

Traffic sign/signal installation/maintenance 19.8%

Maintenance/administration of cemeteries 19.5%

Operation of convention centers and auditoriums  19.5%

Street/parking lot cleaning 18.6%

Affordable housing 18.0%

Operation/maintenance of paratransit system 17.5%

Emergency medical care 16.6%

Collection of delinquent taxes 16.2%

In-home safety improvements for seniors 15.5%

Operation of homeless shelters 15.4%

Parks landscaping/maintenance 15.2%

Operation of cultural and arts programs  15.2%

Operation/maintenance of bus transit system 14.9%

Operation of airports 13.6%

Inspection/code enforcement 13.0%

Youth employment programs 12.1%

Comprehensive land-use planning 11.8%

Personnel services  11.6%

Before/after school programs or summer camps 11.5%

Workforce development/job training programs  11.5%

Programs for the elderly  11.3%

Programs to address hunger 11.1%

Title records/plat map maintenance  10.8%

Tax assessing 10.8%

Snow plowing/sanding 10.4%

Land use review and permitting  10.0%

Elder nutrition programs (e.g., Meals on Wheels) 10.0%

Payroll 9.9%

Child welfare programs 9.7%

Senior recreation programs 9.4%

Youth recreation programs  9.2%

Centralized customer service system (i.e., 311 system)  9.1%

Water distribution 9.0%

Tax bill processing  8.8%

Water treatment 8.7%

Operation of animal shelters 8.7%

Economic development  8.5%

Sewage collection and treatment 7.6%

Animal control  7.5%

Inspection of food preparation facilities 7.4%

Public relations/public information 7.1%

Operation of museums  7.0%

Sanitary inspection  5.8%

Operation of recreation facilities  5.8%

Parking enforcement 4.1%

Prisons/jails 3.7%

Operation of libraries 2.5%

Fire suppression  0.9%

Public safety dispatch 0.8%

Crime prevention/patrol  0.5%

Here’s the report if you want to read it:

2017 Alternative Service Delivery Survey

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