The debate over Columbia County consolidation ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. At least for now.
After a series of public reviews, town-hall meetings and samplings of opinion, the proposal to incorporate part of Evans and immediately consolidate it with Columbia County to create a city/county government has sputtered.
Members of the county's legislative delegation were the ones to finally hit the brakes when, in a Feb. 6 meeting in Atlanta, the lawmakers asked commissioners a series of question about the proposal.
One of the eight questions involves state constitutional and legal issues, asking how the law would treat the sheriff; three of the questions ask about the future of the county's existing two cities; and the remaining four questions are speculative, asking how possible or pending issues could affect the proposal.
At this stage, the questions themselves are less important than the fact that the lawmakers are asking them. Until they're satisfied with the answers, consolidation won't move forward. With the 2006 session of the Georgia Legislature coming to a close, any thoughts that a consolidation referendum could be on a ballot this year are fast disappearing.
"We don't have a lot of confidence it's going to happen this session because of various issues," says County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who believes consolidation "is the best thing for the county long-term."
Sounding-board polls on the issue show citizens aren't convinced. Respondents to a pair of unscientific polls at newstimesonline.com show strong dislike for the idea, and an as-yet-unreleased local survey is said to find few takers for the concept.
There are two bits of good news from this delay: First, commissioners are now - belatedly - saying that they are willing to set up a citizens committee to study the issue. And, with the plan stalled, candidates for office this year will have plenty of time to declare their preference and seek votes accordingly.
While Columbia County does have a hefty list of needs that could be funded through various fees to which consolidation could provide access, none of those needs are so pressing that the citizens should be hurried into making a wholesale change in the county's structure.
In short, there's no need to rush. If consolidation is right for Columbia County, it will still be right a year from now.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.