Consolidation: My 2 cents after the election…
Now that the election is over, let me share my thoughts on the consolidation issue here in Hawkinsville / Pulaski County. I really did not want to say much prior to the election. Whatever I said, (or say now probably) would have been construed by the pro-side as being against consolidation and would have been construed by the con-side as being for consolidation. As a sitting official, I really felt that I should remain neutral. I think the citizens of this county should have whatever form of government that they want – therefore, I voted to allow the citizens to vote in the Nov. 5th referendum to decide that question.
Ironically, now that the election is over, I am probably getting asked more about it than before the election.
First, let me clear up (or attempt to) the confusion about – “City people got to vote twice”. There were two completely separate elections taking place. The city residents had to decide if they were in favor or not in favor of consolidation. The county residents (which is everyone that lives in Pulaski including those within the city limits) also had to decide if they were in favor or not in favor. So if you live in the city, it was not exactly that you voted twice in one election, but you voted once each in two different elections. Whether you agree or disagree that is how the Secretary of State’s Office told us to do the election. The Secretary of State guy quoted as saying it was illegal was probably simply asked if it was legal to vote twice in an election. This is the same way the vote was done in 1999 as well. A good analogy is this: if COKE and PEPSI were going to merge, and you owned stock in BOTH (city AND county resident), then you would get to vote in the COKE election and the PEPSI election.
When this issue first came up of the consolidation, I was certainly not going to stand in the way, because again, I feel the citizens should have whatever form of government that they want. However, if we were going to go down that road, I wanted it done right. So we (city and county governments) appointed a 16 person study committee to look into this idea. We had young, we had old. We had white, we had black. We had men, we had women. We had business people, we had farmers. We had a great cross representation of people on this committee. We then provided them the resources necessary to fully explore this issue. The city/county accountant attended those meetings. The city attorney attended those meetings. City/County personnel attended those meetings. City/County officials attended those meetings when asked. We had the Regional Commission out of Macon facilitate the meetings. GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) and ACCG (Association of County Commissioners of Georgia) attended many of the meetings. The group was tasked with exploring the avenues, the good, the bad, the financial, the personnel, etc. etc of this issue and to report back to the governments if they would recommend we pursue a consolidated government or not. This group met for over a year. They finally concluded that the majority of the group felt that we SHOULD pursue the consolidation. So both the city and county governments then changed the group from a study committee to a charter commission. They were to formulate the recommended “look and feel” of the new proposed government that would govern the consolidated “Hawkinsville / Pulaski County’. They wrote the charter which defined things such as the number of commissioners, their terms, the rotation, the pay. They came up with the proposed districts, and all the other items that had to be addressed. The proposed charter was then sent back to the local governments, where they were deemed appropriate and the charter was then sent to the Georgia State Assembly for approval. After they approved, and the Governor signed it, it was then placed on the ballot for the November 5th election.
As with any issue there are pros and cons. As with many issues there are disagreements as to the assumptions made. The pro-side was proclaiming that the consolidation would save lots and lots of money. My personal belief is that it could have saved some money over time. Not a whole lot, but some. Economies of scale and increased efficiency were sure to happen. However, at the same time, the merger itself would have been expensive. Simply merging the two general ledgers and accounting systems would probably not have been cheap. Long term, we would be managing ONE accounting system rather than two, but short term, we have to create the system to do it. We have ALREADY functionally consolidated many departments with the County, so much of the savings of a consolidated government have ALREADY been realized. 911, EMA, FIRE, POLICE, ANIMAL CONTROL, TAX COLLECTIONS, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, RECREATION DEPARTMENT, BUILDING AND CODES ENFORCEMENT have all been functionally consolidated with the county over the last 10+ years.
I think a positive would have been that we could project ourselves as larger. When a potential industrial prospect inquired as to the size of our city, we could report 12,000 rather than 4,000.
A positive would have been some reduced bureaucracy on items that previously would have had to obtain both city and county approval. However, for items requiring JUST county approval, you would have had to convince 3 of the 5 county commissioners rather than the current sole commissioner.
For many people that do not like that we have a SOLE county commissioner, a board of 5 was more appealing.
Some on the con-side were proclaiming that suddenly the county would have to conform to city ordinances or pay city taxes. That was not accurate. All ordinances applying NOW to the county would have remained to the county, while all ordinances applying just to city residences would have remained applying just to city residences. All city taxes collected would have remained in the city. The county was NOT suddenly going to have to pay city taxes. Their dirt roads were NOT going to suddenly be paved, and they were NOT going to suddenly have the option of utilizing city services such as water or trash pickup.
I think consolidation would have removed one barrier to city annexation. NOW, we must not only have the proposed properties’ owner’s approval, but we must also have approval from the county. I suppose since the consolidated board would have represented both city and county, the county approval would not have been necessary. Depending on how you feel about the possibility of annexation, this could be either a pro or a con for consolidation.
On the negative side, I like the fact that we are all (city and county officials) elected at-large. I like that I feel I get to represent ALL of the residents of Hawkinsville, and not just my little “district.”. I also like the fact that the way it is now, 100% of the people voting on city taxes are required to LIVE within the city and pay the taxes that they might propose. Under the consolidated government, it would have been possible for only some (or even none) of the elected officials to have to pay 100% of the taxes they were proposing (if they lived in the county, but were voting on taxes or fees for the city district).
There are many other valid arguments for or against the proposed consolidation. But the people have spoken. And we will continue as we were. I heard several residents proclaim that their reason for voting against consolidation was simply, “It ain’t broke, so it don’t need fixin'” There is some truth in that statement. Unlike many cities and counties across Georgia, our two governments work very well together. In fact, just this past Friday, Sole County Commissioner M.A. “Butch” Hall, myself, and Jerry Murkerson, the City Manager, were invited as guest panelists at a joint GMA/ACCG training session in Dublin, Ga. The training was on City/County Cooperation and we were presented as a MODEL for how to accomplish this.
I love that we live in a country where the PEOPLE get to decide. The PEOPLE are in charge. Not a few but all. I applaud those of you who VOTED in this election and I think I can speak for both the City and the County governments when I say, “We will strive to continue to work together to improve the lives of the citizens of this great community. We need more industry, we need more jobs. We need to continue to make sure that EVERYONE has a voice and that EVERYONE gets heard. We need to continue to find ways to keep costs (aka TAXES) down while providing the services that the government needs to provide.”
We have a great community. As with any group of individuals, there are differences of opinion. There are facts to any issues and there are incorrect facts about any issue. We will continue to work together, even when we disagree on some items, or some points. We all want what’s best for the community and our children. Finding the optimum route to get there is often a challenge and the route chosen is often debated. But the end-goal is hopefully the same.
I would love to have your feedback on this post or any post….
Shelly J. Berryhill
Hawkinsville City Commissioner