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City nixes consolidation study
Council vote comes after commissioners approval to move funds for study
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    After Bulloch County Commissioners voted Tuesday to take a step toward funding half the cost of a proposed consolidation study, Statesboro City Councilmen voted to rescind their July 7 decision to pay the city's half.
    The proposed study, which would be conducted by the Carl Vincent Institute of Government, would cost up to $40,000. Representatives of  the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce approached both  city and county officials with the proposal; city councilmen agreed to fund up to $20,000 during their July 7 meeting.
    Bulloch County commissioners tabled the decision during the July 7 county commission meeting, with Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch recommending commissioners obtain more information about the study commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday morning to transfer $20,000 from one budget to another in anticipation of forming an agreement with the city to fund the study. However, Couch  said Tuesday morning he still has not received the type of information he wants, and hopes to meet with city officials from Brooklet, Portal and Register as well as Statesboro, along with representatives from the Carl Vincent Institute, to discuss the study and what it entails before making a decision to enter into an agreement to fund the study.

        Statesboro City Councilman Will Britt's motion to rescind the city's funding, as well as a second motion setting conditions for future funding, echoed Couch's ideas, as well as those of Commissioner Roy Thompson, who was the sole commissioner who voted against the county transferring finds for the study.

        Commissioners Jan Tankersley, George Jackson, Robert Rushing and Walter Gibson voted in favor of the transfer. Commissioner Anthony Simmons was absent.

        Before the vote, Thompson said he is in favor of a study, but not ready to commit to a possible $20,000 expenditure before obtaining more information.

        He said he would like to meet with Statesboro, Brooklet, Portal and Register officials to make sure each municipality is in agreement. "I don't think  this is a decision we can make with common sense," he said. "I would like to know the county and all the cities are on the same page." He said he is in favor of having representatives from all government agencies meet with the study representative before making any decision.

        Britt's motion to rescind the city's finding passed unanimously. A second motion also passed stating the city would fund the consolidation study with two conditions: that Bulloch County leaders meet with not only Statesboro councilmen, but representatives from Brooklet, Portal and Register; and that the Chamber of Commerce Consolidation Committee be modified to include members that are more representative of the city's population regarding age, race and sex.

        "Fifty-five and older, white males - that's not representative of the city," said Statesboro City Councilman Travis Chance.

        Rushing said Tuesday night he did not expect the city's move.
        "I am certainly surprised," he said. "Maybe we need to revisit the issue if the city does not want to go along with it. We're not  going to fund the entire $40,000.  It seems like a waste of  time."

        Bulloch County Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil, who strongly voiced support for the study Tuesday morning,  was not immediately available for comment Tuesday night.

        "I was actually one of the biggest advocates for ( consolidation)," Chance said. "I'd step down tomorrow if consolidation was what's best for the city, even if I'd lose my seat in the process."

@Subhead:Citizens would vote on consolidation
@Bodycopy:      During Tuesday morning's county commission meeting, Nevil said he supported the study, adding that consolidation is not a new idea. It has been brought up in discussions for  the past three years at retreats where city, county and other community leaders meet to discuss ideas and issues, he said.

        "It is my opinion that on an item of such importance, we shouldn't base our decision on speculation or hearsay," he said. " The ultimate decision will be made by the citizens of Bulloch County. It will not be made by this board."

        Should city and county leaders feel consolidation would be agreeable, the issue would be placed on a referendum and be voted on by citizens, he said.

        "Citizens of this county would have the opportunity to vote," Nevil said. "We need to know as much as we could know so we don't make a mistake."                The study would provide the vital information regarding possible consolidation, he said. "I feel the need for a study is valid."

        Nevil suggested commissioners make a motion to approve funding the county's share of the study cost. Tankersley agreed, making the motion. " We do need all the information we can get to make an informed decision," she said.

        The vote was simply to transfer the funds from one budget to another so they money would be there should the county agree to enter into an agreement regarding the study, Couch said. Further meetings between city and county officials and a Carl Vincent Institute representative are expected before that decision is voted upon, he said.

        Statesboro Mayor Bill Hatcher said Tuesday afternoon, before the Statesboro City Council meeting,  he was pleased with the county commission's vote.

        "This is  the first step towards the possibility of consolidating city and county services," he said. "I think it’s good for us to look at this study and see if the idea is really feasible for our area.”

        (See Thursday's Statesboro Herald for more detailed coverage of Tuesday's Statesboro City Council meeting.)
        Statesboro Herald reporter Phil Boyum contributed to this report.  Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.
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