published Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Merger resolution gets unanimous OK

DALTON, Ga.—Whitfield County and Dalton city leaders voted unanimously late Monday to approve a joint resolution asking state lawmakers to pass legislation creating a charter commission to study merging the two governments.

"Funding for governments is going to continue to dwindle—we need to look at how to get ahead of this steamroller of increasing costs," Dalton Mayor David Pennington said at the City Council meeting.

County commissioners held a specially called meeting Monday evening to approve the joint resolution crafted over the last two weeks.

The resolution will now go to local state legislators, who said last week they do not anticipate any problems in passing the legislation before the end of the 2011 session.

The charter commission, consisting of two city leaders, two county commissioners, one representative each from Tunnel Hill, Cohutta and Varnell, four residents appointed by county commissioners and four appointed by City Council members, will study all facets of city and county government to see if consolidation is advisable.

Citizens who want to serve on the commission will need to contact leaders before the end of the day today, Pennington said.

The commission will have until April 30, 2012, to write a charter for the consolidated government, City Attorney James Bisson told council members Tuesday.

Leaders hope to place the consolidation referendum on the ballot in November 2012.

Before the City Council vote, Pennington said combined city and count budgets of $69 million will face a $4 million shortfall if the two governments do not consolidate.

County commissioners voted to approve the resolution after some discussion about how Dalton Utilities would be handled in a consolidated government, County Chairman Mike Babb said.

"There was some concern—it will be one of the big issues we need to resolve," Babb said.

During public comments at the City Council meeting, attorney David Blackburn asked if anyone had completed a cost-benefit analysis of a merger. Blackburn was the only citizen who asked questions about consolidation.

That would be the commission's job, Pennington told Backburn.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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