The debate about the future of municipal revenue sharing shouldn’t be primarily about whether Maine’s cities and towns deserve a cut of the sales taxes collected statewide, or whether local officials do enough at budget time each year to hold the line on spending.

Instead, it should be a deliberation about how services are delivered in Maine now, and about how that has to change to make the state better able to cope with the challenges stemming from its demographics and its place in the global economy.

That’s why city and town leaders now fighting Gov. LePage’s proposal to eliminate revenue sharing should focus less on why it would be painful, and more on how they plan to counter the forces that will push property taxes upward regardless of what happens with the governor’s budget.

There has been a start on this tack by service-center communities, but a more focused and detailed defense is necessary.

Service centers such as Portland are as good an example of regionalization as there is in Maine. They provide a centralized location for organizations that serve people from outside their borders. As such, they already provide the kind of regionalization-based taxpayer savings that LePage argues is lacking.

Municipalities throughout the state also have found savings by working together on services such as emergency dispatch, waste disposal and recycling, and, through mutual aid agreements, firefighting.

But more than what they have done, communities need to talk about what they will do. Municipal and school officials may have, in many cases, reined in spending as much as possible under a system in which local control trumps all. But that system, established in a time when most Mainers would live, go to school, find a job and die in the same community in which they were born, is outdated.

Real, structural change to how local services are delivered has to be part of the discussion, although how to bring about this change may be different in northern Somerset County than in the Portland suburbs.

Otherwise, with or without revenue sharing, increasing costs will cause communities to either raise property taxes faster than residents’ ability to pay them, or eliminate services to the point that the community slowly withers.

That’s the simple fact in a state where most of the nearly 500 municipalities and roughly 160 school districts are shrinking, costs are rising and incomes are largely stagnant. State aid can kick those concerns down the road, but not for long.

Revenue sharing is not “welfare for municipalities,” as LePage has called it. But it is also not a cure-all for the woes facing Maine’s cities and towns, and it’s not a replacement for the creative thinking and collaboration that those woes demand.