Originally created 02/15/99

Column: It's time to press for the savings of consolidation 021599 - The Augusta Chronicle



"It will save money!" That was the rallying cry of the proponents in the campaign to consolidate the governments of Augusta and Richmond County.

A lot of the rhetoric of the 1995 campaign has been distorted into urban legend (such as free garbage pickup). But, who can forget the reason to have one government? It will save us money.

However, in the three years since the merger, the new government has been on a feeding frenzy. Taxes and fees went up $25 million during the first two years. And, the number of employees grew, rather than shrank -- even with the celebrated early retirements. Even today the Commission has before it a plan to raise inspection fees on new construction to balance the 1999 budget.

NOW, THE Commission has a plan to save money. Real money. Your tax money! $2.7 million the first year. More than $13 million over the next five years.

The savings are laid out in a management study by DMG-Maximus. These nationally respected consultants examined every aspect of city government. They spent five months going through offices controlled by the mayor and Commissioners and offices of some of the constitutional

officers.

For its $150,000 investment in this management study, the Commission is rewarded with potential savings of millions of dollars.

And, just what did the researchers find?

They found a government providing a very high level of service in a very inefficient way. That inefficiency is the result of out-of-date technology, poor organization and excess middle management.

NOT SURPRISINGLY, they found that their 300-plus pages of recommendations could be put into effect without diminishing the services provided by your city government. In other words, the taxpayers would never notice the difference.

Even with cuts in the number of deputies in the sheriff's office, the report says, your level of police protection will not be reduced. And, the changes in the fire department will increase coverage and lower insurance premiums in the former unincorporated area.

While the report found positions that were not being used to their maximum, it also found serious shortages of staffing in other areas. But, even with cuts here and additions there, the savings still total in the millions of dollars.

While we must not rush to judgment, we should recognize that the management study shows us time is money. It's time we got serious about saving your money.

THE FIRST THING I did when I took office was present the Commission with a reorganization plan for the mayor's office. I cut the number of employees from four to three. The savings amount to $10,000. That's real money that can be better used for indigent health care or housing rehabilitation or other programs.

I've gone to local businesses to find a sponsor to pay for new signature banners at Riverwalk (saving $3,000), recruiting companies to buy Celebration 2000 flags for the light poles (saving over $5,000), and I am working with an industry to put on a New Year's Eve fireworks show (saving $10,000).

At my first meeting with department heads, I put forth a challenge to look for new ways to do our jobs. It's not enough to say, "This is the way we've always done it." The management study affirms that the old way is inefficient, wasteful and expensive.

You can bet the department heads, employees and special interests are already working overtime to convince your commissioner that the sacred cows must be protected.

I BELIEVE progressive public servants should have nothing to hide; rather, they should provide the leadership to embrace the changes that will result in better services and real savings.

The most important part of the equation is you, the taxpayer.

If you truly believe that consolidation can save you money, the opportunity to press your argument is at hand. The management study is your ammunition.

You must let your voice be heard loud and clear. You must insist on these savings. You must challenge decisions that perpetuate the status quo. This is one fight you cannot afford to sit out.

When I took office last month, I declared: "It is a new day, Augusta!" The day is at hand to revisit the promises made when we consolidated our two governments into one.

WE EXPECT a lean, mean government that will provide quality service at a reasonable cost. That time has finally arrived. The taxpayers will get what they want if they have the courage to demand it.

Expect nothing less.

(Editor's note: The author is new Augusta Mayor Bob Young.)