Hamilton County seeks details combining services

Hamilton County seeks details combining services

April 23rd, 2009 by Matt Wilson in Politics Local

Most Hamilton County commissioners say they're open to the idea of combining some local government services as Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has suggested, but several also said they need to know if the changes will save taxpayers money.

"The way that would make me favor (consolidation) the most would be savings to the taxpayers," said commission Chairman Jim Coppinger. "I'm not interested in seeing government get larger."

Mr. Coppinger said officials would be remiss, though, if they didn't look for ways to stop duplicating services.

Mr. Littlefield brought up the topic of consolidating city and county services Monday after he was inaugurated into his second term in office. He said Tuesday that no data has been collected regarding how consolidation might cut costs.

"I don't know that you can do it with data," Mr. Littlefield said. "Some of it is just simple common sense. You know that organizations doing the same thing ... in a parallel fashion is perhaps not the best way to do it."

Mr. Littlefield and Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey have given few details on just what would be combined and how.

"The devil is in the detail in all these things," Mr. Ramsey said Tuesday.

But Commissioner Fred Skillern said he's "leery of certain things" being combined.

"If we can improve services for less money, I'm for it," he said.

But Mr. Skillern said not all services would be cheaper if combined.

Commissioner Larry Henry agreed that officials are going to need to determine what moves will be cost effective.

Commissioner Bill Hullander expressed hesitation about any government consolidation, though he did say he'd approach the topic with an open mind.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it," he said.

Mr. Hullander said many of the county's water utilities, which Mr. Littlefield said he wants to combine into one regional water and sewer authority, have been doing a good job as they are.

Commissioners Warren Mackey, Curtis Adams, Richard Casavant and Greg Beck said they'd be for combining services.

"Why not?" Dr. Casavant asked. "We're paying for government several times over."

But Dr. Casavant said there may end up being a few turf battles and some resistance to change.

"We get, sometimes, a little jealous about having our own operation," he said.

Mr. Coppinger said he's hopeful that responsibilities could be divided in a practical way.

"There may be instances where county government may be better equipped, and there may be instances where the city of Chattanooga may be better equipped to provide services," he said.

Commissioner John Allen Brooks could not be reached for comment.