Originally created 12/06/01

Residents weigh in on Savannah merger



SAVANNAH - Merge the government of unincorporated Chatham County with that of Savannah, and it might make law enforcement, street maintenance and other services less costly. Or it could provide cover for putting a damper on black political power.

Both views were expressed during a sparsely attended public hearing this week at the Savannah Civic Center.

"We may talk about economies of scale. But the data show us that while costs may go down a bit at first (following consolidation of local governments), they usually go way up later," said Terry Tolbert, of the Economic Opportunity Authority for Savannah-Chatham County.

Mr. Tolbert, who recalled writing about consolidation when he was a graduate student, said it usually happens in the South - and the topic usually comes up just as black residents begin gaining political power within inner cities.

"The African-Americans who live in the city should be aware that the effect would be to dilute the black vote," Mr. Tolbert said.

Whitemarsh Island resident Jack McCall, who lived in Duval County, Fla., when it merged with Jacksonville, credited the move with pulling local government there out of a tailspin.

"There were some ups and downs over the first five or six years, but in my opinion consolidation was the only thing that saved the city of Jacksonville," Mr. McCall said.

Government mergers save money by eliminating duplicated services, Mr. McCall said.

"Common sense tells you that having only one of everything is less expensive than two of everything," he said.

Fewer than a dozen residents showed up for the Tuesday hearing.

The Georgia General Assembly approved a resolution creating the 12-member consolidation committee, appointed by city council, county commission and legislators.

The group will present a report to the Georgia General Assembly later this month or in early January, committee Co-chairman William "Bill" Lyght said.

Consolidation is not a new idea. The city and county governments have studied and debated mergers since the 1970s. Several other Georgia governments have already made the leap, including Columbus-Muscogee County, Athens-Clarke County and Augusta-Richmond County.

Committee members have visited each of those three communities. They have also listened to reports, asked questions of government officials and worked with experts from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.