Originally created 12/25/05

Columbia County plan draws notice



To find out just how much interest there is in Columbia County's consolidation efforts outside the Augusta area, just ask Todd Glover.

"About a month ago, I got a call from Pittsburgh, Allegheny County," said Mr. Glover, Columbia County's Management Services director. "They're looking to consolidate. And they were inquiring about how we were doing it."

Inside Georgia, many other counties also seem to be watching Columbia County with thoughts of their own consolidation.

The idea of incorporating a new city in the Evans-Martinez area and then consolidating it with the county government is something Columbia County commissioners unanimously agreed to consider in September, sending the issue on to the legislative delegation.

Columbia County officials say what they're doing is different: not consolidating two existing governments, but getting the benefits of a consolidated government and the name recognition of a new city under only one government.

"We're in essence creating a city and merging with it, which has a lot of positives in that we're not absorbing another bureaucracy and having to deal with those types of things," Mr. Glover said.

"It's really something that's unique in the country, so it is going to garner a lot of attention," he said.

Still, some of the same benefits apply to all counties considering consolidation in Georgia, with one of the largest benefits being franchise fees, officials have said. Columbia County has estimated it could receive as much as $5 million a year in such fees, which are collected from telephone, cable television, electricity and natural gas companies.

"It's certainly a big factor because it can be a significant source of revenue for a consolidated government," said Betty Hudson, an attorney and public service associate with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. "Counties are not eligible to collect.''

Ms. Hudson said at least 10 counties in Georgia are talking about consolidation, and at least one is pursuing an initiative similar to Columbia County's.

Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.