published Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Dalton-Whitfield charter panel to hire UGA experts

DALTON, Ga. — Members of the commission studying the merger of Dalton and Whitfield County governments voted Wednesday to spend nearly $20,000 on experts and studies from the University of Georgia.

The vote came during the charter commission's third meeting, which included extensive discussion but also uncertainty about the best way to proceed.

Because the commission does not have an operating budget, city and county officials must approve the money to pay UGA's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

During the commission's weekly meeting, County Commission Chairman and charter commission member Mike Babb was the first to speak up in support of using the institute.

"We are floundering," Babb said. "We need someone to keep us on track, to keep us oriented and going in the right direction."

Several other members agreed.

"It's a daunting task," Phil Neff said. "This is an opportunity to take a serious look at what will benefit the citizens and what we can change that will be beneficial to this community."

During the meeting, the commission also heard from two government departments that already are consolidated.

County Engineer Kent Benson said the consolidation of the city and county building and zoning departments eliminated four positions and simplified the process of obtaining building permits.

"I would say we had one of the simplest of all departments to consolidate, but we still had some challenges," Benson said.

The consolidation took place in 2009, with the departments eliminating all their positions and creating a new staff of six positions replacing the city's four positions and the county's six. Employees in the two departments reapplied for the new jobs.

The departments also consolidated databases and reworked ordinances that were not the same.

The six people are managing the department, but Benson said the county has much less construction than it did in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In addition to savings, the consolidation means builders who have property in the county and city can work through one department, Benson said.

The Solid Waste Authority has been consolidated in an intergovernmental agreement since the 1970s and changed to an authority in 1995. The authority manages both county and city waste, although the city still operates a curbside garbage collection and recycling program.

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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