Should City and County Consolidate? - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Should City and County Consolidate?

Ewell Lyle, Dougherty County Commissioner Ewell Lyle, Dougherty County Commissioner
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard Mayor Dorothy Hubbard
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

A Dougherty County leader is pushing for consolidation of Albany and Dougherty County governments. 

Commissioner Ewell Lyle said it could save tax money and create a more efficient government.  His suggestion comes as county and city leaders come back to the table for more intergovernmental agreements over fire protection and recreation services in unincorporated Dougherty County. 

Flames are becoming more costly to fight in parts of Dougherty County. "Of course the sensitive area we've got in the special services district is if it's raised any significance, where does that money come from," said Ewell Lyle, Dougherty County Commissioner. 

The county pays the city $3.2 Million for fire protection from the Albany Fire Department. That agreement is under re-negotiation, with a new term set to begin in July.  "We have a lot of intergovernmental agreements between the city and the county and what we do is review them periodically," said Mayor Dorothy Hubbard. 

A recent report from the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government suggested reducing Dougherty County Police Department staff and continuing contracting with the city for fire protection. 

"You don't have to have all these agreements. There are about 27 of them now that we're doing, constantly negotiating," said Lyle. 

The county explored the idea of creating its own fire department for the special services district instead of contracting through AFD.  The study concluded a new department would strain the county's budget, create higher I.S.O ratings and lead to higher home owner insurance premiums in unincorporated Dougherty County.

"That was very clear cut that the cost of an independent fire department would be more costly than the contractual costs, even with the new service delivery strategy that's being negotiated now," said Richard Crowdis, Dougherty County Administrator.

Commissioner Lyle said merging county and city governments would reduce costs and improve services.  "We're a good example where it can work," he said.  "I think it's just a political issue we need to educate the public on so they understand what it would be under the new organization." 

He said an 11th hour agreement during negotiations over how the city and county split Local Option Sales Tax revenue last year illustrates the need for consolidation. 

"It's just a situation that really gets to be explosive," Mayor Hubbard said. "Those people who believe that consolidation is the right thing to do get excited.  Those people who believe that it is not the right thing to do get excited."

More than seven years ago, the city tried to pass a referendum to allow the public to decide on consolidation, but it was blocked by county leaders.

The mayor said leaders don't plan to revisit the issue at this time. "I think if the county wanted to consider it and come to us to talk about it then we would engage in conversation," she said.

 

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