The Columbia County Evans Martinez incorporation/consolidation train seems to have already left the station at full throttle. ... This is not a trial balloon being floated by the commissioners to study the issue and discern public sentiment. Many citizens think that this is a three- to four-year process of study, education and debate, but the commission doesn't think so and they have attached some urgency to the issue. They are moving forward as if this were a done deal that only requires voter approval.
The commission's public presentation indicates that a 1991 ASU study and a 1995 County-Wide Government Study Committee report on consolidation are being updated by county staff, with recommendations to the commission by the end of this year. ... It seems the commission has drawn a conclusion and begun the legal procedures of consolidation before it has been fully and objectively studied. ... . If we do not want to repeat the errors made in the Augusta/Richmond County consolidation in 1996, then we need to take things a little slower and consider the following issues:
Fencing in Harlem and Grovetown. The move permanently limiting the geographic growth of Harlem and Grovetown. The population of the city of Grovetown has grown about 13.6 percent since the 2000 census, faster than the county population has grown. This growth has been managed by a small, but progressive, city government - a good government who sees to the needs of its people. Consolidation would require that the two cities close ranks and try to continue providing services while their growth stagnates and their revenue stream weakens.
Franchise fees. There is no doubt that franchise fees will bring in millions more dollars, but at what cost to the citizens? Franchise fees paid to the city/county by the major utilities are simply passed through to the residents on their monthly bills. They are a form of tax. ... The new city/county will pass on to its residents a $5 million-per-year permanent tax and will filter the tax through a private utility entity. There is no accountability on the part of local government for what happens to that tax between the time it leaves the citizens hands until it is used for public purposes. ...
Objective analysis of the consequences. Perhaps the commissioners could act on the recommendations of its 1995 County-Wide Government Study Committee - that an ongoing task force consisting of nine citizens be selected to further study the issue of consolidation. This would lend much more credibility to the results than to direct county staff to update some studies that the commission has already made up their minds about.
Economies of scale. This phrase usually refers to cost efficiencies incurred when two entities combine. Since it is the stated position of the county commissioners and staff that there is nothing to combine in our situation and county government departments will not change at all, there is no present duplication of services from which to gain any economies of scale.
More funding of infrastructure costs. The need for infrastructure is the direct result of residential and commercial growth. Perhaps the developers should share in the cost of this infrastructure since they are creating the need for it. The county has just appointed a new committee to study the possibility of assessing impact fees on such development. It makes sense to get the results of this committee's work before asking the citizens to approve consolidation and a $30 million bond issue. ...
Let's just take this thing a little slower, commissioners. Let's study the issue objectively. Let's encourage open community forums that educate the public and seek input. ... Let's do all we can to make sure the voters make an informed decision after weighing the real pros and cons, not just the hype put out by those who have already made up their minds. ... There is much work to do to educate and convince them.
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