State lawmakers consider consolidating city and county governments

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) – This is a move that could change the face of the Peach State, including how government operates in parts of our viewing area.

State lawmakers are considering a proposal to merge cities with counties that have lost population, according to the latest census data.

Declining populations mean potential consolidation.

Every time people leave an area, it means less money for that city or county.

News Leader 9 spoke with some officials about how this could benefit local governments and residents.

According to 2020 census data, an increasing number of people have left some of Georgia’s rural counties.

Stewart County, home to towns like Lumpkin, Richland and Omaha, lost 12% of its population.

“Stewart County is a stable county,” Stewart County Executive Mac Moye said. “We haven’t increased the mileage rate in this county in a quarter of a century.”

What happens afterwards? State lawmakers are considering consolidating counties with now lower populations, such as Stewart.

“Consolidations sound like a good idea,” Moye said. “A bigger government should be able to serve the people better.”

Here is how the process would work, the city and county government would work as one.

Let’s take a look at the city of Columbus, which was the first consolidated state government.

When Columbus merged with Muscogee County, the city was left in charge of government, leaving the mayor and city council as elected senior officials.

Most areas do this to save money, as was the case when Chattahoochee County merged into the city of Cusseta in 2003.

“They will see tax benefits,” said Chattahoochee County Executive Laura Lee Bernstein. “For example, if it was an ununified government or an unconsolidated government, you would have a municipal tax and a county tax.”

Because city and county governments are consolidated, residents pay only one tax.

We are told that the biggest area that could be affected if the merger occurs is public safety.

“Are you going to have an appointed police chief or are you going to wrap it up under the elected sheriff?” adds Bernstein.

For smaller governments like Chattahoochee and Cusseta, their sheriff leads law enforcement.

It is not known when the bill will be put to a vote.

Stay with News Leader 9 online and live for the latest updates.

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