One Saturday morning at a Republican breakfast, I listened to the County Commission's pitch for consolidation. At first I was like the little old lady in the television commercial from some years ago who asked, "Where's the Beef?" But I thought I might be missing something, so I decided to give it some more thought. Now after several weeks I have come to the conclusion that my first thought was the correct one after all.
We live in what is, if not the best, then one of the best counties in the state of Georgia. Our school system is recognized to be one of the best in the state, along with our Sheriff's Department, Recreation Department, and I could keep going. The reason for consolidation should be to improve your services, and to give the citizens a better way of life. The commissioners, at their own admission in their presentation, say there will be no improvements to services or anything else. So why do it, we ask?
First, we hear that we are going to be put on the map. Was it not just a little while back that a nationally know magazine said that Evans was in the top 25 places in all the country in which to live? Maybe we should ask them how they found us since we are not on the map.
Another reason given to us for consolidation is so the county can collect franchise fees just like cities can. The county then plans to go out and secure $30 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements, to be paid for by the franchise fees. This way your taxes will not have to go up - just all your utility bills! These fees will ultimately come from you, the taxpayer, as the utility companies (electric, gas, phone, cable services, etc.) pass on these fees to you.
Or, maybe I should say that at least your taxes will not go up yet. As I write this, I have just come back from the Georgia Municipal Association Mayors Day Conference in Atlanta. While I was there they warned all cities to get ready for franchise fees to be eliminated in the next two to three years. There is a bill in Washington that is likely to pass concerning this, and if it does, there go the franchise fees. Then where will the money come from to pay for the bonds? Do I have to say the word, or do you get it? Taxes!
The County Commission also tells us nothing is going to change with the government. The way it is set up will stay the same because there is going to be some city created on paper only, and the county will consolidate with it. Well, while I was there in Atlanta I thought, "why not ask the GMA attorney about the consolidation effort in Columbia County?" since the county would be a part of the GMA if consolation was to happen.
When I asked the attorney her opinion on the idea, she said she could not see the state legislators allowing a city to magically fall out of the sky so a county could consolidate with it. I personally know the Georgia Constitution does not allow a city to be created in the way they want to do it.
So: Is the county riding a dead horse? If the citizens don't kill it, it is the opinion of the GMA attorney that the powers-that-be in Atlanta will, and she was not talking about our local delegation.
There may be some changes needed at the county level to improve things, but consolidation at this time is not one of them.
(George James is a member of Grovetown City Council.)
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