Welcome to Sandy Springs, an Atlanta suburb of 94,000 whose city hall doesn’t have marble floors and Roman pillars. Nor does it have many taxpayer-supported city employees. Including the city manager, there are a total of seven.
Everything else the town does is outsourced to private companies that are doing, by all accounts, a bang-up job.
Here’s the way the Times explains it: “Applying for a business license? Speak to a woman with Severn Trent, a multinational company based in Coventry, England. Want to build a new deck on your house? Chat with an employee of the Collaborative, a consulting firm based in Boston. Need a word with people who oversee trash collection? That would be the URS Corporation, based in San Francisco. Even the city’s court, which is in session on this May afternoon, next to the revenue division, is handled by a private company, the Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, Calif. The company’s staff is in charge of all administrative work, though the judge, Lawrence Young, is essentially a legal temp, paid a flat rate of $100 an hour.”
Many cities have experimented with outsourcing, but none has taken it as far as Sandy Springs.
“To grasp how unusual this is, consider what Sandy Springs does not have,” reports the Times. “It does not have a fleet of vehicles for road repair, or a yard where the fleet is parked. It does not have long-term debt. It has no pension obligations. It does not have a city hall, for that matter, if your idea of a city hall is a building owned by the city. Sandy Springs rents. The town does have a conventional police force and fire department, in part because the insurance premiums for a private company providing those services were deemed prohibitively high. But its 911 dispatch center is operated by a private company, iXP, with headquarters in Cranbury, N.J.”
Even the Times, normally a bleeding heart voice for expansion of government, admits there is nothing amiss about Sandy Springs, which hints it’s one of the “purest examples of a contract city.” Everything works just fine. And it’s been like this since the town incorporated in 2005.
In reading about this experiment in outsourcing government, I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind that this may be the key to salvaging what’s left of America’s decaying cities. It could even be a model for downsizing Washington.
Conservatives and libertarians have been making the argument for years that government attempts to do too much and not very well. We’ve argued that part of its very nature is a voracious appetite for growth and power.
Could outsourcing government be the answer?
Keep your eye on Sandy Springs.
California could learn a few things from this town.
So could Greece and Italy.
And so could both Democrats and Republicans vying for power at the national level.
If private companies can outsource successfully, why can’t government?
Could this model help provide a way for America to rediscover limited government running debt-free and efficiently?