What’s the big secret in Sandy Springs, Georgia? This town of 83,000 furnishes Cadillac-level services on a budget of $1,996 per person. Sandy Springs provides its residents deluxe amenities like a rapid-response center for citizen complaints about city services, live Internet viewing of photos taken by traffic enforcement cameras, and a tennis complex that features 24 lighted courts.
Sandy Springs offers all this on a per-person budget that is 20 percent less than Mesa, Arizona’s; and despite the current economy where 10 local governments in different states have filed for bankruptcy in the last year.
So what is Sandy Springs’ secret? Private management of city services. Sandy Springs has outsourced nearly every city service and department outside of police and fire to be managed by a private company, CH2M-HILL. This public-private partnership has proven stunningly efficient and effective at providing a high level of services to an affluent community, even in the face of a 12 percent drop in tax revenues over the past three years.
More important than tennis courts and traffic cams, the Sandy Springs model shows the way out for cities in Arizona that have painted themselves into a corner with excessive payroll and retirement benefit obligations—nearly half of the city’s workforce is privately employed.
Arizona cities should consider competitively outsourcing all of their non-public safety services, including city management itself. Arizona, after all, is the birthplace of large-scale competitive outsourcing in municipal services. Sandy Springs’ success invites Arizona cities to reclaim their heritage.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is Director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: A New Charter for American Cities
BlackRock’s Municipal Bond Market Report: State of the State & Local Governments
City of Mesa: Budget