Local governments may look beyond their boundaries to provide needed services. Within these efforts, these governments often engage in voluntary arrangements such as interlocal agreements or regional partnerships to encourage coordination to capture economies of scale in the production of services (Feiock 2007).
From this perspective, fragmented local governmental units will cooperate to address needs that span across regional boundaries while retaining local autonomy. These efforts, referred to as institutional collective action (ICA), come forth when local governments voluntarily form institutional arrangements to address common goals (Feiock, 2007). Collective action of this sort borrows from the notion of individual collective action (Olson, 1965). Multiple jurisdictions are seen as working together to enhance their own interests, while still contributing to the needs of the broader region. Such efforts allow local governments to augment the provision of their services and address citizens’ demands where doing so on an individual basis may be more difficult, specifically when limitations exist that hinder governments from taxing and borrowing for service production.
As with individual collective action, institutional collective action is easier when the number of actors is small and homogenous, and when they share common goals. The costs of acting collectively must also be lower than the costs of individual actions (Steinacker 2004; Post, 2004). When these conditions are not met barriers to institutional collective action exist. If jurisdictions are tempted to renege, there is less incentive to cooperate because local government actors may have incentives to defect from inter-governmental agreements and collective efforts. This problem creates a need for less voluntary mechanisms to address regional needs, while maintaining some measure of self governance. In this situation collective action may require local governments to give up some autonomy in order for commitments to the common purpose to be credible. This research argues that regional special districts provide this mechanism.
To explore this proposition, this dissertation investigates when and how local governments create regional special purpose governments. The specific focus is on county governments, and their choices to use multi-jurisdictional special districts when faced with barriers to institutional collective action. Therefore the research asks, “Under what conditions do county governments use multi-jurisdictional special districts?” Investigation of this question allows exploration of the extent to which local governments create other local governments when taxation and borrowing are limited, and barriers to voluntary arrangements of cooperation exist. This builds upon Burns’ (1994) notion of local government formation when there is a need to harness taxation and overcome borrowing limitations in the face of collective action. In addition, investigating regional special district formation allows exploration of how the creation of regional special purpose districts can be framed as institutional collective action.
This question is addressed using descriptive and empirical analyses. To conduct the descriptive analysis, surveys were conducted among 18 fire, hospital and library special districts that explored the implications of barriers to voluntary cooperation on regional special district formation. With that, the major lesson which was brought forth tells us that it is important to consider the implications of the service sector when examining special district usage. The consideration of barriers to institutional collective action revealed that conditions did not have uniform effects among the various service sectors. In order for all three district types to be used, a regional need had to exist; however, the extents of those regional needs were based upon specific contextual factors. Likewise, the condition that denoted group size or geographic concentration had different effects among the examined service sectors. For library services groups tended to be larger, where as fire and hospital districts revealed to be developed where participant groups were smaller.
The empirical portion of this study was conducted using data for 790 counties collected from the U.S. Census of Governments for the periods of 1992 and 2002. Logistic and Poisson regression analyses were used to analyze these data. The empirical analyses of this study reflected the descriptive analysis, in that various conditions affected each service sector differently. Additionally, the results of the empirical analyses reflected the survey findings of the descriptive analysis in regards to how certain conditions affected a given service sector.
These findings led to other implications that brought forth further ideas about how this study could be elaborated. Such ideas focus on the consideration of other factors that delve deeper into the institutional dynamics of county governments as they relate to specific service sectors. These factors may give deeper understanding of service sectors in regards to special district usage. Therefore, this research not only extends the theoretical emphasis of this issue, but it also brings forth understanding of the practical implications. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)