The Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is required to conduct Municipal Service Reviews (MSRs) for all cities and special districts located within the County of Orange. MSRs are a mandate from the state legislature requiring LAFCOs to look at future growth and how our local agencies are planning for that growth within our municipal services and infrastructure systems (Government Code §56430).
OC LAFCO has completed three cycles of MSRs – the first round of MSRs were completed between 2005 and 2008 and involved a collaborative, stakeholder-driven process involving County, city, special district, and LAFCO staff. The result was detailed MSRs for each Orange County agency. For the second cycle of MSRs (2008-2013), the Commission “reconfirmed” the MSR determinations for most Orange County agencies.
For the third cycle (2013-2018), the Commission developed a new approach – use technology, where possible, to develop ongoing monitoring tools for Orange County’s local agencies. The third cycle of MSRs now largely embraces an innovative approach instead of stand-alone reports that are updated and shelved every five years.
Municipal Service Review Cycles
The original law was vague and could have resulted in reports with little or no value to LAFCO or the affected agencies. Instead, OC LAFCO designed a collaborative, stakeholder-driven process that was unique in California. The process provided an opportunity for stakeholders to demonstrate vision and leadership in tackling important issues and often planted “seeds” for future changes in local governance leading to a long-term improvement in the delivery of municipal services.
Those stakeholder discussions, and the subsequent MSR reports that followed, resulted in successes – a consolidation of two water districts, a reorganization of territory between agencies to correct funding inequities, boundary changes between counties, the identification of water and sewer challenges, continued discussion of future governance in South County, and an increased awareness of a variety and complexity of issues facing cities and special districts. This effort also highlighted the innovative and effective ways that many Orange County public agencies tackle tough issues.
One of the important lessons learned from the initial round of detailed MSRs was that, generally, Orange County agencies are well run and provide their constituents with reliable, high level services. In November 2008, the Commission concurred with staff that it would not be a valuable use of staff time (or that of city and/or district staff) to replicate the intensive, stakeholder effort undertaken in the first round of MSRs.
As a result, the Commission “reconfirmed” each of the agencies’ respective MSRs/SOIs for the 2008 – 2013 cycle, with the exception of six agencies (City of Rancho Santa Margarita, City of Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach Sanitary District, City of Tustin, City of Orange and the City of Los Alamitos) that were identified in the first round of MSRs as having important sphere of influence and/or boundary issues that required additional staff and Commission analysis. Focused sphere of influence studies were subsequently completed for these agencies with recommendations and determinations adopted by the Commission.
Continuing OC LAFCO’s efforts to make the MSR process relevant and meaningful for LAFCO and Orange County’s cities and special districts, the Commission developed a new approach for the 3rd cycle of MSRs. Since the initial round of MSRs showcased the excellent work of public agencies in Orange County, OC LAFCO believed that those agencies exhibiting innovative and efficient efforts, called “Best Practices,” could help other public agencies learn how to do more with less.
A Best Practices Summit sponsored by OC LAFCO was held on March 27, 2009, with 84 elected officials and key staff from 47 Orange County agencies in attendance. The purpose of the Summit was to allow elected officials and key staff from a variety of public agencies to not only discuss what issues Orange County would face in the next few years, but also allow for a broad exchange of original and inventive ideas or “practices” to meet those challenges.
In order to streamline the 3rd cycle of MSR updates and continue to provide value to our stakeholders, the Commission agreed to showcase Best Practices as a unique, County-wide approach to meet the State-mandated MSR requirements for Orange County’s cities and special districts. Many of the programs staff has developed over the last three years, in collaboration with local agencies, were designed to highlight best practices, provide opportunities for cities and districts to share services, identify demographic and fiscal trends, align services, and increase agency and public involvement in government decision making. These include the Fiscal Trends and Shared Services Programs (see links below) and the Demographic Trends and Public Engagement Programs (available in June 2013).