by Elissa Yount
Merging city and county government deserves a thorough going over with a fine tooth comb.
North Carolina General Statutes set out the requirements for such a merger. The public can have a part in getting the ball rolling, and the public most definitely has an interest in the cost savings.
Some would argue that only the city residents of Henderson, Kittrell, and Middleburg would benefit from such a merger. Some would argue that the County Commissioners and City Council would never give up their power. Some would argue that there would never be any agreement. While those argue, the issue deserves to be studied, examined, and brought before the public by our elected officials.
Saving tax money would be a prime goal. Only one manager and only one administrative office, only one finance office, only one human resource office, only one attorney, only one planning department, only one sanitation department, only one law enforcement agency, and only one elected government body would be “only” the beginning of significant savings. Duplicate government buildings could be sold or leased. There would be improvements in the ETJ. The issues of annexation would go away. There are many positive possibilities.
For social services, schools, tax collection, economic development, elections, and ABC board, very little would have to change. The library, recreation, and 911 would be funded fairly and equally both for debt, operating expenses, and capital improvements. Landfill, trash collection, recycling, and waste management could be combined for better services and efficiency with the cost of extra services being borne by the user.
The city dwellers may have to pay a surcharge for fire, street lights, and sidewalks, but the law could provide for this. Since the water and sewer rates are enterprise funds now, they would continue to operate the same way with the costs of the service being sufficient to run the operation. This also might be a very good way for the county residents to get water more cheaply.
Presently, not one of our representatives in Raleigh or Washington, DC lives in Vance County. With a combined government, we could have more clout and get a local representative elected.
Studying the issue of merging the governments and getting the facts before the public should be a priority of our elected officials. The public can then make a fair assessment and decide for themselves if two can live as cheaply as one.