Starting Wednesday, The News-Times will hold an online "runoff" for candidates nominated to be "mayor" of Evans.
It's all in good fun. But running parallel to the stunt is the serious discussion that is just beginning on the idea of incorporating Evans as a city, and then consolidating it with Columbia County.
Plenty of study will be needed. Opportunities and pitfalls abound in such a move, and the obvious ones already identified may be just the tip of the iceberg.
For example, an incorporated Evans, and then an incorporated Columbia County, could charge franchise fees to utility companies whose wires and pipes run across the county. Only cities can charge those fees, so Columbia County currently is unable to receive them.
But would such a charge result in higher costs to Columbia County residents? Probably not, because most such fees are set statewide. Still, the question would need to be answered early.
On the troubling side, what happens to Harlem and Grovetown? Harlem's population has stagnated in recent years, in part because of a moratorium on new sewer connections. City officials have hoped annexation of nearby areas with new construction would help increase the city's population.
Meanwhile, Grovetown's population is booming; its growth rate is the area's highest, and the city has gradually expanded its borders to take in new subdivisions that hook up to the city's utilities.
If Columbia County consolidated with a newly created city of Evans, it would create a countywide city with Harlem and Grovetown locked in place. The two existing cities then would be permanently prevented from growing through annexation. "We would be like a vine and would die on the vine," says Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau. "If you can't grow, the only other way you can go is to deteriorate and eventually be gone."
The cities could, of course, simply give up their charters and merge with the city-county government. But they would also lose their individual service, character and identity except as community names on a map - just like Evans is now.
These issues and more raise troubling questions that need to be answered, and a good, thorough study should do just that. Fortunately, nothing can happen without at least two votes: The county's legislative delegation would have to vote to approve Evans' incorporation, and consolidation would require a vote by county residents.
State Sen. Jim Whitehead - who cautiously supports the idea - would add one more vote: A straw poll of the citizens before any action is taken.
Such a poll has no more legal standing than does the online balloting of readers who can soon pick an honorary "mayor" of the non-existent city of Evans. But just as we'll pay attention to the outcome of the newspaper's just-for-fun poll, hopefully lawmakers and local officials will listen to the citizens before moving forward on such a real, drastic change to local government.
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