published Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Dalton-Whitfield consolidation planning kicks off

Harry Hayes from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government speaks to the Dalton and Whitfield County Charter and Consolidation Commission at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on Wednesday in Dalton, Ga.
Harry Hayes from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government speaks to the Dalton and Whitfield County Charter and Consolidation Commission at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on Wednesday in Dalton, Ga.
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DALTON, Ga. — Members of the committee examining whether Dalton and Whitfield County should consolidate have a long 10 months ahead of them.

On Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Dalton Town Hall the group will elect officers. In the coming months they will assess all the costs, benefits, rewards and struggles of uniting the city and county governments while writing a charter specifying how their newly created government would work.

“It’s like writing the Constitution,” Harry Hayes of the University of Georgia’s government institute told the 15-member commission Wednesday. “It’s quite an ambitious time frame.”

The plan appears even more ambitious when considering everything that goes into consolidating a government. School boards would be unaffected by consolidation, but the Dalton-Whitfield County Charter and Consolidation Commission will need to bring every single one of each government’s services, departments, pay plans, pensions and everything else that goes into running a government under one roof.

“You have to start with that first step, and this is that first step,” panel member and Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said. “It’s an elephant.”

But wrangling that elephant could bring some serious benefits to the city and county. The new government would be able to increase the efficiency of services, wield more purchasing power and have the ability to behave as either a city or county, depending on what would benefit the area more, officials said. This would open up funds such as government grants specified for one type of government or the other.

Even with these benefits, the commission still must weigh the costs of combining the governments and risk a slew of unforeseen problems that could arise.

But to get to that point, both the city and the county must pass the commission’s charter in November 2012’s elections.

“We can write the best charter in the world, but if we don’t educate our community, it’s not going to go anywhere,” committee member Tangela Johnson said. “It’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of resources and a lot of understanding.”

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