I have been watching the consolidation question with great interest. I am not a fan of big government, but I am a fan of efficient government. Efficiency comes from competition. How does this relate to the consolidation question?
On one side we are being told that millions of dollars of free money will pour into Columbia County and we will become the leading city in the region with businesses lining up to build clean "green" businesses in the county. All proponents can offer is the "back door tax" of the franchise fees, and I have yet to see something to replace the Masters as an identifier for the area.
Yes, we do have excellent government leadership (both elected and employed). If there was ever a commission that could pull success off, I am pretty darn certain the Columbia County Commission would be the best chance. But I am concerned about the "what if" factor. A recent story in The Augusta Chronicle listing some facts about the Richmond County government that should give pause.
Costs for the consolidated county have doubled those of the county-city governments combined. The number of employees has increased by 14 percent. Defenders say this is just because there are more services being delivered. One of consolidation's greatest defenders mentions how great it is that trash pickup is twice a week. ... You know, my neighbor gets her trash picked up twice a week; I get the service once a week because I choose what I want to pay for.
The difference between my service and that in Richmond County is that if my garbage doesn't get picked up I can complain or switch services. The service has a reason to give me quality performance. In the government-controlled private services of Richmond County, you can call to complain, call your commissioner, and have the satisfaction it still is not getting picked up.
The problem is that as government gets larger (i.e. takes more control) it must serve an ever-increasing population. As the service area grows the individual is relegated more and more into insignificance. And the really bad part is that once government sinks their claws into something they will never give it back.
This is my greatest concern about the proposed consolidation issue. What if the consolidated government turns into a voracious monster that devours and never delivers? How do we prevent losing quality private services and the right to choose?
The real problem is that Richmond County suffers from the same problem as our nation. Most of Richmond County agrees that the commission is damaged, but few are willing to place responsibility on their commissioner. In Richmond County the real troublemakers are supported by people whom they just have to pay off with "free services," and they can stay in regardless of what the rest of the county thinks.
If Columbia County government really thinks consolidation is a fantastic issue, then put a rider in the charter that will put the government up for a simple up or down vote every "x" number of years. If the vote is down (majority of the whole county) then all the commissioners will resign and be ineligible for re-election for the next two elections.
Think about it: If commissioner "A" is a blithering, power-drunk obstructionist (but his constituents can be bought off with money stolen from the other part of the county), then the whole county gets to vote on the overall operations.
Yes, their commissioner gets canned too, but this gives the people a "nuclear option," and it puts the government on notice that incompetence or poor performance will cost all of them.
Daniel Gwinn, Martinez
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