Columbia County leaders met with the county's constitutional officers and some elected officials Thursday to explain how a possible consolidated government in the county would affect them.
"We're keeping everything exactly like it is today," said Todd Glover, the county's Management Services Division director. "...Absolutely nothing changes from where we are today."
County commissioners voted on Sept. 20 to proceed with documentation that would create a new city in the Martinez-Evans area and to have that city consolidated with the county government. That proposal will now be presented to the area's legislative delegation. From there, if the state Legislature approves, the idea could go before voters.
"There are things that counties can do that cities cannot do," Glover said. "Yet there are a lot more things that cities can do that counties cannot. Being both has its privileges."
Glover explained that becoming a consolidated government would allow for more name recognition for Columbia County, more federal grant opportunities, more flexibility on the use of one-cent sales tax funds and the collection of franchise fees, which can only be collected from utility service providers by municipalities. Consolidated governments are allowed to use special purpose sale tax funds for water, sewer and stormwater projects, Glover said.
Along with the idea of consolidation, commissioners also are looking into a possible $30 million bond issue to be used for capital improvements throughout the county, including stormwater infrastructure. The bond issue would allow collected franchise fees, which might be passed along to residents as a 2 to 3 percent increase on gas, cable and telephone bills, to pay for the improvements instead of a millage increase for citizens.
"In essence, the citizens of the county, you have $30 million worth of capital improvements with no millage rate increase. The real increase, being 2.5 or 3 percent of your telephone, and gas bill," Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. "That's hard to beat."
All this, commissioners say, is preparation for the county's future, which they expect will include becoming the area's population center.
"This is not really for us," Cross said. "This is for our children and our grandchildren."
Glover also disagrees with the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." With the population growing rapidly in Columbia County, the government needs to be preparing.
"But really, 'If it ain't broke don't fix it,' only applies to the present. That doesn't apply to the future at all," Glover said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it now. But really what we are doing is looking at the future of Columbia County, where we take Columbia County in the future."
Many constitutional officers and elected officials at the meeting, including Sheriff Clay Whittle, were looking for the answer to a much more personal question.
"Lets get to the real question that's deep in my heart, what are we going to call this?" Whittle asked at the meeting.
Names were suggested at the meeting including Columbia City, Evans and Columbia City-County. Other names, brought up jokingly, included Crosstown, Ford and Andersonville after commissioners.
"I know there is a lot of deep care and concern over what we call it," Glover said. "It could basically be anything...I think that's up to the people."
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