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State lawmakers consider consolidating city and county governments

Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 11:43 PM EST
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - It’s a move that could change the face of the Peach State, including how government runs in some parts of our viewing area.

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

Declining populations means potential consolidation.

Whenever people move out of one area, that 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 the 2020 census data, a growing number of people have moved away from some of Georgia’s rural counties.

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

“Stewart County is a stable county,” said Stewart County Manager Mac Moye. “We have not raised the millage rate in this county in a quarter of a century.”

What comes next? State lawmakers are considering consolidating counties with now lower populations, like Stewart.

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

Here’s how the process would work, both the city and county government would run as one.

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

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

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

“They will see benefits in taxes,” said Chattahoochee County Manager Laura Lee Bernstein. “For examples, if it was a non-unified government or a non-consolidated government, you would have city tax and county tax.”

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

We’re told, the biggest area that could be impacted if the merge happens is public safety.

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

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

It’s unclear when the bill will be coming up for a vote.

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

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