published Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Dalton, Whitfield County merge vote slowed

Tom Young/Correspondent

Poll
Should Dalton and Whitfield County's governments merge?

DALTON, Ga. — The proposed merger of Dalton and Whitfield County's governments and services does not appear likely to be put before voters in November.

Members of the consolidation commission, who have met on a regular basis since June 2011, had set a tentative date of the end of March to arrive at some sort of recommendation for consideration by county voters.

But in a subcommittee meeting Wednesday, the air of caution seemed to prevail. "This all has taken an enormous amount of time," subcommittee Chairman Phil Neff said.

Subcommittee members have spent the last several weeks talking to the heads of various city and county departments. And the more investigation they did, the more problems that would be difficult to overcome were brought to light, according to Neff.

"There are different alcohol sales ordinances in the city and county," he said. "There are school systems to consider as well as levels of services provided by the city/county."

Neff said the Carl Vinson Institute report from the University of Georgia that served as a model for implementation of a Dalton/Whitfield County plan contained some revealing information.

"One thing that was brought to light is that it took Athens/Clarke County, Ga., three different times to finally come to a charter," he said.

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb, a member of the charter committee, said some other cities and counties that have merged "had already merged some departments in place, and that's why [overall consolidation] worked."

The goal of the current subcommittee and of the consolidation effort is to bring a blueprint for a possible city/county merger and charter, Neff said.

"There are some things that should not move forward as we move toward consolidation," he said. "While this not may happen the first time, we feel like we can come with a recommendation [to the entire consolidation committee.]"

Committee Chairman Frank Thomason said even if the full consolidation panel came up with specific recommendations for a governmental merger, "we still would have to have two public meetings" on those.

Tom Young is based in Dalton. Contact him at tomy1953@netzero.net.

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