Given Lansing’s inability to work out a coherent budget, many Michigan cities face the prospect of having to redesign the manner of delivering municipal services. They can find a model in the city of Pleasant Ridge, which has experimented with efficient and innovative ways of providing services for years.
While Pleasant Ridge, in Oakland County, has its own city manager, treasurer, police department, recreation department and other staff, many of the services which it delivers or makes available to residents are handled on a contract basis. This allows the city to provide high-quality services of a nature that it could not otherwise afford given its small size (one-half square mile and approximately 2,500 residents). Contracting also provides a mechanism, through the procurement process, of maintaining a level of control over expenditures.
Police and fire protection constitute a major part of any city’s budget. Pleasant Ridge fire department services have been, for many decades, contracted out to the neighboring city of Ferndale. Emergency dispatch services after normal office hours have been contracted out to the city of Berkley for the last three years. The fact that these dispatchers physically sit at a police department building located elsewhere has posed no impediment to dispatch services. One of the reasons often given for not contracting out such services is that dispatchers are often the ones responsible for watching jailed prisoners. As part of the dispatch contract between Pleasant Ridge and Berkley, prisoners are originally detained in the Berkley jail facility pending transfer to the county jail.
Public works are also generally a major budget item. In Pleasant Ridge, we were able to take advantage of the strengths of our neighboring communities’ public works services. Curbside leaf collection is contracted to the city of Oak Park with back-up offered by Royal Oak and Huntington Woods. Sewer and water line maintenance, as well as quarterly water meter readings and repairs, have been contracted to the city of Royal Oak. The remainder of the traditional public works functions have been contracted out to two separate private companies. Pleasant Ridge’s Department of Public Works was first privatized in the mid-1990s, with the award of a contract covering all services, except garbage pickup, to a single contractor (see Privatization, March 1, 1998).
Pleasant Ridge has long been a member of SOCRRA and SOCWA, the waste management and water consortiums in southeast Oakland County. In an ambitious move, SOCRRA members bid out garbage collection services on a consolidated basis. The contracts resulted in substantial savings to the member communities. Each was promised a savings of at least 10 percent. In fact, Pleasant Ridge realized 24 percent savings as a result of this joint bid arrangement.
Under the contracts awarded in the last year, no single contractor is responsible for delivery of DPW services. Thus, Pleasant Ridge, to borrow computer terminology, now has a virtual DPW — it has no physical buildings, just contractors to provide the services.
The contract for library services was awarded to the Huntington Woods under the competitive bid process in 2004. The contract allows Pleasant Ridge residents membership in the MichiCard system, which allows residents access to any participating library in the Michigan. The contract could have gone to any of the state’s MichiCard libraries and Pleasant Ridge residents would have access. More than 300 libraries participate in the program, so Pleasant Ridge residents have access to books and materials from Houghton in the Keweenaw Peninsula to Monroe in Southeast Michigan.
The city also has a cooperative agreement with the nearby city of Huntington Woods for our community pools. Any time either community’s pool is closed due to a mechanical glitch, contamination problem or swim meet, residents have access to the other city’s public pool.
By forming a circle of community strength that now includes all our surrounding cities, Pleasant Ridge residents can expect the high level of quality services to continue in the most cost-effective and efficient way.
The years to come will likely see more consolidation of the delivery of city services throughout the state. Certainly the provision of emergency services, which are among the most costly for a city to deliver, will be subject to review and consolidation. There currently are six cities in southeast Oakland County — Ferndale, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Royal Oak Township — exploring the feasibility of a regionalized fire department. It is the goal of the group to maintain high quality fire protection, while eliminating, over the long term, duplicative equipment and other costs given their physical proximity and size. Such endeavors will remain at the forefront of the efforts by cities to provide high quality services at an acceptable price.