The need to restore the federal-county partnership has never been greater. Maricopa County is not alone in its struggle to cope with shrinking revenues; higher fuel, energy and health care costs; aging infrastructure, and increasing public demand for essential services.
County owned and operated institutions and infrastructure are under great financial and operational duress across the country as a result of shrinking revenues, increased costs and increased populations. In addition, emergency disaster preparedness and response challenges are overwhelming many understaffed and budget-crunched counties.
That's why Congress and the White House need to restore the partnership with the nation's 3,068 counties to develop pragmatic solutions to our shared problems and responsibilities.
Too often, Washington relieves pressure on the federal budget on the backs of local governments. Unfortunately, it has been getting much worse in recent years.
Washington needs to appreciate that the roles and responsibilities of many counties in America are changing drastically. As populations grow in traditionally rural communities, residents are demanding services common in cities and more urban counties.
Counties accept these responsibilities, but the costs and challenges are increasingly difficult to manage in light of shrinking revenues as a result of the housing and foreclosure crisis and increased costs.
No longer can counties accept unfunded mandates and preemptions of local authority from Washington and continue to deliver essential services, maintain our aging infrastructure and protect communities at a level Americans expect.
On July 15 in Jackson County, Mo. (Kansas City), I had the honor of being sworn in as president of the National Association of Counties. In the months ahead, I will lead the association's Restore the Partnership Campaign to re-establish a working relationship between the next president and Congress and county governments.
In addition, as president of NACo, I will lead initiatives on green government and immigration reform.
The NACo Green Government Initiative will continue to serve as a catalyst between counties and the private sector to encourage practices, products and policies that result in financial and environmental savings. Green vehicles will be a particular emphasis of my initiative. The goal is to promote higher fuel efficiency and alternatively powered vehicles. The nation's 3,068 counties own approximately 500,000 fleet vehicles. NACo desires to provide a combination of education, advocacy and discounted purchasing opportunities to assist counties in moving toward green fleets. I am already working with the federal government, auto manufacturers and others to bring this vision to fruition. Saving money, increasing U.S. energy independence, and improving the environment are the goals.
A workable system for legal immigration into the U.S. is essential to the economy and our individual communities. Illegal immigration, on the other hand, continues to stress the education, health care, criminal justice and other locally-run systems in counties across the country.
I believe that one consequence of the bitter debate about illegal immigration in the U.S. has been a breakdown in civil dialogue about immigrants themselves and their essential role in American history and our economy. In advocating for new legislation, my approach includes plans to restore civility to the debate and help build a consensus around a workable system of legal immigration.
By restoring the partnership between cities, counties, states and the federal government, we can all better serve the American people.
Don Stapley, a member of the National Associations of Counties' board of directors since 2004, is a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.