Michigan Paper Muses on County Governments’ Roles and Structures

An August 1 column by Brian Dickerson in the Detroit Free Press discusses county governments in that state and nationwide with a provocative title of “Do We Have Too Many Counties?” Its narrative of the size and scope of county governments – particularly as their authority has been eroded by other levels of local government – raises interesting structure-or-government issues.

From the column:

But almost since Michigan’s first counties were established, they have ceded political authority over important local matters such as property assessment, tax collection and zoning to smaller units of government. None of Michigan’s counties has exclusive zoning authority over the land within their boundaries, and many cities, townships and villages have established their own police forces and health departments.

The result is a duplication of services that could be offered more efficiently, more economically and often more professionally at the county level.

“Counties are regional governments, and whether we have a lot of them or just a few, they should be doing more,” says Eric Scorsone, an MSU economist who specializes in state and local government finance.

“Why do we have every city and township doing property assessment?” Scorsone asks. “Why do they all need their own IT departments?”

Interestingly, the article’s underlying themes and academic opinions seem to point toward a structure closer to that in Maryland — where there are relatively few county governments who still retain primary local government responsibility for the sizable majority of residents and their primary service needs.

Read the full opinion piece on the Free Press website.



Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties