How Well is Power Spread Across Metro Areas?

An index ranks metro areas by how well authority is consolidated or shared among municipalities.
by | January 8, 2013 AT 7:30 PM

This month’s By The Numbers magazine column discusses areas with the most governing entities, and the associated challenges that numerous jurisdictional boundaries pose for public officials.

For the most part, localities have avoided mergers, while others opted to consolidate services in recent years. The total number of local governments across the country – including special districts – dipped only slightly from 2007 to 2012.

One way to assess the concentration of governments is to simply count them, as the Census Bureau does every five years. More than half of local governments serve special purposes, such as schools, sewer authorities and water districts. In terms of raw totals, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas have the most units of local government. On a per capita basis, North Dakota boasts an astonishing 39 governments per every 10,000 residents – the most in the country.

We previously posed 2012 totals for each state here.

David Miller, director of the Center for Metropolitan Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, has developed another approach that’s worth considering, known as the “metropolitan power diffusion index.” The measure considers both the number of units administering common services and each government’s related expenditures.

By factoring in the distribution of spending, the index provides a more complete picture of how authority is divided within a region.

Miller assigned a score to each metro area, with higher scores representing more “fragmented” regions. We’ve compiled the scores for 942 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas into the table below:

The index is based on the most recent complete 2007 Census of Governments data, so consolidations or new governments forming since then are not reflected. For a detailed explanation of how scores were computed, please refer to the center’s methodology.)