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pal utilities reveals three general modes: (1) Private ownership under public regulation; (2) public ownership with private operation; and (3) public ownership and operation.
Where municipal utilities are in private hands they are operated under franchises granted by some municipal or state authority.1 On the whole there is a marked tendency in the direction of making the grant of important franchises dependent upon popular vote. This is the system which prevails where the initiative and referendum are in force. There is also a tendency to limit the term of all franchises, issued to private companies, to short periods of years, varying according to the importance of the utility. In general, the term of twenty-five years seems to be the most popular. It has become customary, furthermore, in the granting of franchises, to place the private company under some close restrictions as regards charges and the character of the service rendered; and it is now the common practice for the municipality to require some kind of compensation either in services, cash payment, or annual rental. Even the most conservative students of municipal government are agreed that the old policy of non-interference is obsolete."
Wherever public ownership is combined with private operation, the municipality leases its plant to some corporation, and stipulates certain standards as to services and charges. This is quite common in cases where the undertakings are so large and returns on the investment so uncertain that private capitalists are unwilling to finance the enterprise at all or except under onerous conditions. Examples of this method of dealing with municipal monopolies are afforded by the waterworks system of Denver and the subways of Boston and New York.
The third method of dealing with municipal utilities public ownership and operation is far more frequently employed in Europe than in the United States. If we leave out of account the
1 Several of the states have forbidden the state legislature to grant franchises in cities.
2Above, p. 597.
3 The recent Cleveland street railway settlement which limits the company to a net earning of 6 per cent on the capital and at the same time gives the city strict control over service, extensions, and increase of capital is an interesting example of public regulation.
Readings, p. 548.
water plants and the small electric-light plants owned and operated by American cities, we may say that the principle of municipal ownership has secured no general acceptance. Doubtless the general view current in the United States is well represented by the report of a commission on public ownership appointed by the National Civic Federation in 1907. That commission came to the conclusion that municipal ownership of public utilities should not be extended to revenue-producing industries not involving public health, safety, and transportation, or the permanent occupation of public streets or grounds. It is generally held that owing to the corruption and inefficiency of so many of our city governments no sort of public business on a large scale can be successfully operated directly by municipal authorities. How far this view represents the mature judgment of people who have given the matter any thought and how far it is an opinion advanced by the private interests opposed to the extension of municipal ownership it is, of course, difficult to determine.2
It is certain that most of the corruption in American city government has been connected with the exploitation of public franchises by private corporations. It is undoubtedly true, also, that "politics," in the bad sense of that word, is mixed up as much with private ownership as with public, and the career of some of the New York transit companies will compare in mismanagement and dishonesty with the career of the Philadelphia gasworks under the ownership and operation of the city. Indeed, it is argued by advocates of municipal ownership and operation that the danger of corruption is by no means so marked in connection with public ownership as with private ownership. They hold that the greater responsibilities associated with public ownership will attract a higher quality of men to our municipal governments; that in proportion as the city, through public ownership, touches directly the lives of its citizens, popular in
1 Readings, p. 548.
2 For an excellent example of the way in which interested corporations may use modern publicity to discredit municipal ownership, see the Progressive Age for November, 1907 - an article on "Municipal Ownership in New York City."
3 See Bryce, American Commonwealth, Vol. II, chap. lxxxix, and Readings, P. 552.
4 See Readings, p. 550.
terest in its government and administration will be increased; that a higher standard of labor conditions may be established; and that only public ownership and operation will secure that control necessary to make the various municipal enterprises render adequate services.
It may be doubted, however, whether arguments in the abstract on this question of municipal ownership are of any practical value. Most opinions which we now have rendered as to the respective merits of public and private ownership are merely ex parte statements. It may be said with safety that in some places municipal ownership and operation have succeeded remarkably well and that in other places, notably in Philadelphia, municipal ownership is connected with corruption and inefficiency. No general conclusion seems possible at the present time except that municipal ownership will not succeed in any city unless high standards of civil service are established and there is a large and influential group or class permanently and deeply interested in the economical and efficient management of the enterprise in question. Municipal ownership, therefore, is in itself not good or bad; its success depends upon the standards and ideals of the community in which it is tried.
LOCAL RURAL GOVERNMENT
THE differences in local institutions throughout the United States have been so often emphasized by writers on American government that it seems well at the outset to indicate certain fundamental principles common to them all. The first of these is that our local communities enjoy large powers of self-government through elective officers, and in the exercise of these powers are only slightly subject to the supervision and control of the state administrative officers. In the second place, the states, with one exception, are divided into counties, and counties are in turn divided into towns, townships, or districts of one kind or another. Every county, and generally speaking every subdivision of a county, is a unit for certain financial, judicial, police, and local improvement purposes which are usually carried out by elective officers and boards. In the third place, subject to the few general provisions in the commonwealth constitution, the county and its subdivisions are under the absolute control of the state legislature, which can create and abolish offices, distribute functions among the various authorities, and in other ways regulate by law even to the minutest detail the conduct of local government.
The divergences that occur among the states in local institutions may be ascribed to the manner in which local functions are distributed between the authorities of the county and of the town or township and to the manner in which the inhabitants of the county subdivisions participate in the conduct of their local matters. On this basis of differentiation our states have been classified into the three famous groups: (1) those of the New England type in which the town and its open meeting overshadow
1 In the preparation of this chapter extensive use has been made of the scholarly work by Professor Fairlie, Local Government in Counties, Towns, and Villages, to which the student is referred for further details.
2 Louisiana is the only state in which the district is not known as the county. There it is called the parish.
in importance the county; (2) those of the South in which the township is absent or appears only in the most rudimentary form; and (3) those of the middle type, like New York and Pennsylvania, in which the town, or township, as it is sometimes called, has a large and important place, but is subordinate to the county administration. These three types of local government, which will be described in due time, have been carried westward roughly along parallel lines and have formed, with varying emphasis, the basis for the development of local institutions west of the Alleghanies.
The last census reported 2852 counties in the United States, varying in size from the county of Bristol in Rhode Island, embracing twenty-five square miles, to the great county of Custer in Montana covering more than twenty thousand square miles. A majority of the counties, however, range between 300 and 900 square miles in area. The divergences in population are even greater, for at one end of the scale we have New York county, the heart of the metropolis, with more than two million inhabitants, and at the other end, Brown county, Texas, with four residents according to the census of 1900. Even within the same state there may be the greatest divergences in area and population. Kings county in New York has seventy-two square miles and St. Lawrence county 2880 square miles; Hamilton county has only 5000 inhabitants, and Schuyler about 15,000. Delaware has three counties, Massachusetts fourteen, New York sixtyone, and Texas 243. Every county has a county town, which is the seat of the offices of administration. In every state except two, Rhode Island and Georgia, there is a county board' in charge of certain matters of finance and administration, and every county has a group of officers connected with the administration of justice, police control, finance, and miscellaneous matters. Besides being a unit for the satisfaction of purely local needs, the county is also a subdivision of the state for the discharge of many central functions, especially in connection with finance and elections.
Let us examine first the county board. From the point of view of organization, county boards may be divided into two general classes: (1) the small board of three or more members
'The Louisiana parish also has a board.