City, county officials: Consolidation is a complicated issue that would not reap immediate benefits

Consolidation graph

SHEILA MARSHAL:::

Over the past two decades, the Spalding County government has moved towards providing services that were once reserved for residents of municipalities. According to County Manager William Wilson, that has blurred the lines between the city and county. However, despite some residents questioning if those changes would make consolidation beneficial, Wilson said it is not a simple or clear cut process to undertake.

“It’s actually been voted on before – twice – and it was voted down,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of services that even 20 years ago, you had to live in a city to have, but that’s not the case now. We provide many services that we didn’t even as recently as 20 years ago. A lot of counties don’t have animal control; a lot of counties don’t have building inspection; a lot of counties don’t have recreation; a lot of counties don’t have water and sewerage systems. We’re not even required to provide libraries. There’s a big difference between being required to provide a service and choosing to.”

With that, Wilson explained that despite this “blurring of the lines” between some counties and municipalities, consolidation remains a complicated process.

“Consolidation has its pros and cons. There are more and more cities and counties that are looking at becoming consolidated, and I think Macon and Bibb County are the latest. But like I said earlier, it has been voted on twice by members of this community.”

The process presents many administrative challenges, and the anticipated savings are not realized for a number of years, he said.

“The economy as a scale doesn’t come in for years,” Wilson said. “You have to roll through a 10 to 15 year employment cycle before you see a big difference. The studies that I’ve read and been involved with show the savings is not seen both in quantity and in timeliness as anticipated. Due to the many, many administrative policies, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. There’s lots to be considered. There’s many, many more behind the scenes things to be considered. Implementation is key.”

Griffin Commissioner Doug Hollberg said he supports a consolidation of sorts, but perhaps not in the traditional sense.

“I’d be more in favor of a backdoor consolidation of services,” he said. “You basically go through the back door by consolidating duplicated services to be more efficient for the taxpayers. That would include, but not be limited to, developmental services, fire service, police service, recreation, public works and public utilities. A lot of this could be accomplished through renegotiation of House Bill 489 – the Service Delivery Strategy –with the county, which has to be renegotiated when the county revises its Comprehensive Plan, I believe in 2017, or sooner if the county deems it time to move forward.”

Hollberg went on to say that this could prove beneficial to Griffin and Spalding County residents, but would not be without challenges.

“If you could streamline each department, it would hopefully save the taxpayer money through better management, which would lead to better costs for taxpayers,” he said. “The challenges would be, for example, in law enforcement. Who would be in charge? Would the sheriff be willing to relinquish his police powers to the city of Griffin chief of police, which would be an appointed position that answered to the Board of Commissioners? The same question would apply to fire service. You have the question of higher levels of police and fire service in the city than in the county, and that would have to be addressed. Cities are created for providing services at a higher level than the county. That’s a city’s purpose. It’s a very sensitive issue. I believe it would have to be worked out one issue at a time.”

Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith said he is unaware of any recent discussions regarding consolidation, but that if Griffin commissioners were interested in exploring that option, he would do so.

“If the city commissioners wanted to talk about that, I work for them,” he said. “It’s kind of up to them.”

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