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The next step
City, county leaders hear report on combining government
David Lynn of the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia speaks at Tuesday’s meeting.
    Consolidation of city and county government was the topic for discussion Tuesday afternoon as local officials from all across the county gathered at the Bulloch County Agriculture Center to receive information from the Carl Institute of Government and others.
     Members of the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, met with the Statesboro City Council, representatives from Brooklet, Portal, Register and three dozen concerned citizens to hear presentations from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the co-chair of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce consolidation committee.
    Committee co-chair Billy Hickman presented first by giving a history of the idea of consolidation in Bulloch. According to Hickman, the idea blossomed out of community retreats held each year by the chamber.
    “This is not something that happened overnight,” Hickman said. “It has been a long, thought out process.”
    Hickman said that Tuesday’s meeting was not to create a consolidation plan, but just the first step toward gathering information so that community leaders could make an educated decision about moving forward – or not – with city/county consolidation.
    “This is not about consolidation,” Hickman said. “This is about the Carl Vinson Institute coming down and doing a consolidation study. We’re at the early part of the journey.”
    The next speaker was David Lynn from the University of Georgia’s Vinson Institute, who talked about pros and cons of consolidation as well as the services the Institute would provide to the local officials.
    Lynn said the pros for consolidation included benefits from economies of scale, one destination for economic development inquiries, elimination of city/county coordination problems, additional revenue options and the ability for a consolidated government to act as either a city or a county. He said a consolidated government could act as a city in order to collect utility franchise fees while acting as a county for the collection and disbursement of special local-option sales tax (SPLOST) revenue.
    As for the cons, Lynn said that a bigger government is not always better, dealing with a known entity is better than dealing with an unknown entity, competition between local government can sometime be beneficial and that if there isn’t a problem with the current governmental configuration, why change it. He also mention there are cost associated with transitioning to a consolidated form of government – anything from ordering new stationery to labeling on government vehicles.
    Saving money is one reason often given for local governments to pursue consolidation. However, according to Lynn, there are no definitive studies prove consolidated governments save more money than the traditional city/county model.
    Lynn said that regardless of the local leaders’ choice to pursue consolidation, ultimately the decision to approve or deny consolidation rests with the voters.
    Lastly, Dave Willis from ACCG talked about his experience with consolidation when he was a commissioner in Webster County. He said the community leader need to answer questions as they consider consolidation such as “Is the community open to the idea of consolidation?” “Will the community listen to you as community leaders?”  “Are city officials truly interested in an unbiased document from the Carl Vinson Institute?” and “Will leaders set aside the own personal agendas for the benefits of the entire community?”
    At the end, the meeting was open to comments from leaders and citizens alike. Some in the audience mentioned economic development to elicit support for consolidation. Others, who reside in the county, said they had no interest in tying themselves to the city. Other still expressed concerns that a consolidate government would naturally mean fewer elected officials, which would make it harder for the average citizen to afford the cost of participating in the political process.
    While the county commissioners have already voted to transfer money to pay for the county’s half of the consolidation study, the city council still has to vote to fund their half of the study. In addition, both elected bodies will have to approve a contract with the Vinson institute before a study can proceed. The city council took no action on consolidation at their evening meeting.

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