It is likely that the proposal to consolidate all of Columbia Countys three governments was summarily strangled in its cradle last week.
The man doing the choking is state Rep. Bill Jackson, who always expressed skepticism about the concept but nevertheless agreed that the proposal deserved study.
Not any more. At a session last week for citizens to address the legislative delegation, Jackson said flatly, Put me down as against it.
A staunch defender of Columbia Countys heritage, Jackson is still openly bitter that he was unable to block Columbia County officials from building the new courthouse annex in Evans instead of historic - but remote - Appling. His anti-consolidation argument thus centers on an emotional appeal for the preservation of Columbia Countys two cities.
As those looking at the issue acknowledge, the cities participation in a unification plan would be important. But the permission of Martinez-Evans residents would be essential.
Thats because Grovetown and Harlem, added together, make up less than 10 percent of the countys total population. Thats barely enough to influence a vote, much less control it. Instead, it is the residents of the densely populated eastern tip of the county who are the 800-pound gorilla in any measure of citizen sentiment.
Interestingly, though, those citizens have the fewest easily explainable benefits from consolidation, and little to lose if it never happens. In contrast, while Grove-town and Harlem officials fear the loss of their small-town identities, their citizens would immediately benefit from lower taxes and reduced water and sewer rates.
What all this means is that when Jackson and like-minded Grove-town and Harlem residents reject unification without study, theyre cutting off their noses to spite their faces. The cities identities would live on; but their budgets may not survive the rising pressure of duplicated services and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Columbia County and the cities are negotiating future allocations of the Local Option Sales Tax, which provides a hefty share of the countys operating budget and a much larger portion of the two cities budgets. Some city officials worry that consolidation sprang up only as a bargaining tool during the LOST discussion; if those funds are distributed according to the populations of the county and the cities, the cities share would drop precipitously - enough to shove Harlem toward insolvency.
That provides plenty for the cities to worry about, just as a formula that continues to give the cities a disproportionate share of the tax should concern Martinez-Evans residents.
These are just some of the issues that need further study. But that scrutiny wont come as long as one lawmaker, watching the clock tick toward his retirement from public office as the end of his final term approaches, digs in his heels before the first questions are even answered.
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