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
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.
Fire, leaf pickup, emergency dispatch, jails, libraries — The city of Pleasant Ridge contracts out to provide all of these services. Monitoring the contracts keeps costs low while providing quality services to city residents.
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,
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
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.