I wrote on this topic a few months ago in the Maine Sunday Telegram, and in the process became interested in the experiences of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canadian provinces very similar to Maine in physical size, population size, economics, environment, and culture. Both provinces have worked to consolidate municipal government -- "amalgamation" is the word Canadians use -- for decades, but with mixed success. In Nova Scotia, counties have generally assumed powers of towns that find they are no longer viable, while in New Brunswick there was a campaign to force towns to merge.
How did it all turn out? While in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick earlier this summer, I looked for lessons for Maine. What I learned is in this piece in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram. Here's an excerpt:
“Most of the arguments about efficiency don’t really pan out,” says James McDavid of the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, who studies municipal mergers. “You might get some efficiencies if you talk about amalgamating infrastructure like roads, sewer and water, but the argument falls off the rails when you’re dealing with functions involving human beings interacting with residents.” That’s because wages and benefits usually rise after a merger, especially when unionized police, fire or public works departments are involved.
Enjoy the piece.
[Update, 8/12/15: The Portland Press Herald editorial department came out with this editorial based on the piece.]