Saturday, October 30, 2010

John Horgan: Teensy is not always terrific

 By John Horgan
Updated: 10/28/2010 11:20:35 PM PDT
You may have heard the refrain "small is beautiful." 

Sorry, but in today's challenging world, that's not necessarily true.

When it comes to San Mateo County's dizzying array of public entities, tiny isn't always terrific. There is so much duplication along the Peninsula that it doesn't take an Einstein to discern waste in fairly hefty doses.

The numbers don't lie. This region contains 20 cities, 24 school districts and scads of special districts, some so anonymous that few realize they even exist. Those figures don't include the county Office of Education and the county government based in Redwood City.

For decades, these fiefdoms happily went on their merry way without worrying much about saving money. The recession has changed that situation.

Now, there is a concerted effort to combine and consolidate, all with an eye on spending as little as possible in tough times.

If nothing else, the economic downturn has forced public agencies to become frugal.

That's not a bad thing at all. Penny-pinching when it comes to taxpayers' cash ought to be a priority, regardless of our fiscal condition.

In that sense, moves to merge firefighting and police services in a number of communities ought to be welcomed with open arms.

Sharing certain routine operations between public school districts would seem like a no-brainer too.

Fortunately, such efforts are under way. They should be encouraged. More need to occur. And, once in place, let's keep them there.

Someday, perhaps not soon, the economy will turn around, and there will be pressure to jettison some of these long-needed changes. That would be a big mistake.

There doesn't seem to be much chance that full mergers of some small towns or school districts will come about.

So the hamlet of Colma (population 1,600) will not become part of Daly City and the Woodside Elementary School District (one school, 450 students) will remain as a separate academic duchy.

Oh, well, we can't have it all. But what's happening lately is at least a start.

Posted by Steve Sinai

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