It is no secret to anyone who has kept up with local news lately that the local county and city governments have not been getting along, to put it nicely. The most recent disagreements have been about who should get what percentage of the LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) revenue and how services provided to the community should be funded. With negotiations for the LOST continuing through the end of the month, the issues are not likely to go away until a decision is reached; whether that decision will be made by the governing bodies or by a judge in a court of law is unknown at this time. In light of these events, as well as others over the years, Commissioner Steve Hudson offered a suggestion to the citizens of Upson County at the Board of Commissioners meeting last week.
“We’ve been fussing and disagreeing about this distribution of the LOST for some time and I have a proposal that I think could solve the whole thing,” said Hudson. “I think the citizens of Upson County, which includes the citizens of the City of Thomaston, should demand that the two bodies look into the consolidation of the two governments.”
The rest of the board offered no comments either way on the matter after Hudson finished speaking. If the citizens were to follow his suggestion and the unification were to actually happen, then there would no longer be the separate City of Thomaston government and Upson County government. Instead, there would be one governing body for the entire county; which arguably could eliminate the city versus county debate.
City-county consolidations have been going on for more than 100 years. Currently, there are at least 37 consolidated city-county governments in the United States, with another one set to begin in 2014. Seven of them are in Georgia: Athens-Clarke County, Augusta-Richmond County, Columbus-Muscogee County, Cusseta-Chattahoochee County, Georgetown-Quitman County, Preston-Wheeler County, and Statonville-Echols County. Macon-Bibb County will become the eight consolidated government when it begins operation in 2014.
Proponents of consolidated governments say they eliminate the duplication of services between cities and county and save money. But opponents say it actually costs more money to consolidate governments.
A study done by Richard W. Campbell and Sally Coleman Selden and published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia focused on the consolidation of Athens-Clarke County. The study found that while there were some initial costs in forming the consolidated government, eventually there were also some savings. The study concluded that a consolidation can result in cost savings in some departments, however it depends on the design of the new government and the policy and management decisions of its elected and appointed officials.
“The act of consolidating will not guarantee more efficient operations, despite what some of its advocates would have us believe,” the study said. “On the other hand, consolidating governments will not necessarily cause expenditures to increase as some opponents suggest. Each consolidation must be considered case by case and its fiscal impacts forecast based on the local context.”