Local and Regional Government
Rural residents consider their local officials, and local governments in general, to be accessible and responsive to public needs. In contrast, they consider state agencies to be unresponsive.
Some of the characteristics that rural constituents see as strengths of their local governments may also be potential weaknesses. For example, whereas the small size of the government increases efficiency through its responsiveness to local needs, it may also reduce efficiency through duplication of services and a lack of local accountability. Regional collaboration and inter-municipal resource sharing increase efficiency and effectiveness.
Recommendations for improving governance include: making sure local government provides only the services it can manage; ensuring enough revenue to support selected services; improving the management skills of local officials, including training youth to be involved in government; and linking local government to economic development.
Respondents would like "one stop shopping" for access to services. Additionally, rural leaders indicated that governance policy should incorporate regional interconnections between economic development, zoning and land use, and highway, water, and sewer infrastructure. Success in the long term requires consistent, joint planning among all these sectors.
- Supportive infrastructure
- Options and incentives for more focused training
Opportunities that may contribute to reaching these goals include:
- Share models, best practices, mentoring, and case studies across regions
- Educate individuals on all levels: local officials, citizens, youth, and state policy makers
- Develop joint and regional comprehensive plans and regional infrastructure
- Professionalize local governance positions through appropriate training
- Develop citizen participation and leadership
- Link government with economic development
Limited competition for public office presents another challenge to the sustainability of rural governance and the overall health of rural communities. In general, public officials tend to be part-time and turn over quickly, usually due to a lack of incentives to remain. Inadequate training compounds the problem.
Other concerns include:
- Burdensome tax structure
- Overlapping, duplicated services
- Lack of funding for state mandates and regulations
- Resistance to change
- Lack of regional cohesion and planning for zoning, economic development
- Conflicting goals between consolidation and local knowledge/needs
- Lack of communication infrastructure (e.g., high speed internet, cell phone coverage) hinders effective communication both in the region and statewide
- "One size fits all" model of regulation does not meet the special needs of rural areas