Consolidation will require real thought

Published 12:05am Friday, January 13, 2012

Ever since Martha Stewart claimed the phrase, “a good thing,” I cringe whenever I hear it come up in casual conversation.

So when I heard a friend use the phrase while discussing the mayor’s recent consolidation comments, I couldn’t get the image of Jake Middleton dressed in a fashionable sweater set touting his idea to a studio audience of middle-aged women.

“Consolidation is a good thing,” he said again and again in my day dream.

It may be. But as the etiquette empress and crafts czar Stewart would probably tell you, anything good takes time, effort and consideration.

Those were in short supply this week when Middleton suddenly realized the city public works director was decamping for the Adams County road manager’s office.

County supervisors voted unanimously Monday to hire Robbie Dollar for the position left vacant after Curley Jones retired last fall. Since then Sammy Lee Gaines has filling in as interim manager,

Middleton admitted that Dollar would be a difficult man to replace and what better way to avoid the issue than by consolidating the city and county public works departments and thus sharing him with the county.

Consolidation is an approach often suggested by both city and county leaders as a way to cut costs and make government more efficient.

In the past decade, leaders have proposed many flavors of consolidation from the merging of separate departments to a total consolidation of city and county government.

With the exception of city and county fire protection, neither side has done anything other than talk about the issue.

One reason may be that it will take a lot of time and research to make sure all aspects of the issue are considered before making real steps toward consolidation.

A sudden opening in a department does not allow for such consideration.

There are many questions that will need to be answered.

For example, a successful consolidation that leads to appreciable cost savings may lead to job losses. Will these losses come from the city or county?

What about leadership? Who will be calling the shots — the city or county or both? What will that look like?

How much control will aldermen and supervisors have over the day-to-day operations?

How will consolidation affect grants and funding? How will any pre-existing debts be handled?

What will consolidation cost county and city residents? How will the cost of operations be covered by taxpayers?

These are just a few questions that need to be asked. They should not be answered hastily just because a department head position is suddenly open.

Consolidation inevitably means ceding power from some, if not all of our leaders. Human shortcomings, like jealousy and mistrust have always been the biggest barrier to any consolidation. Are our elected leaders willing to risk giving up some of that power to benefit the city and county as a whole?

If not, then all of this talk about consolidation is just wasted time and energy.

And that is not a good thing.

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.

  • Anonymous

    …” to make sure all aspects of the issue are considered…”

    They’ve discussed this for >30 years.  It’s just consolidation, not Operation Overlord.  And many want government to take over health care……..

  • Anonymous

    Politicians do not look at consolidation as a cost savings measure…they look at it as “what’s in it for me?”

    Can you envision the Grinch Mathis giving up her stranglehold on the City of Natchez for the good of ALL citizens of Natchez/Adams County? Answer that one and you’ll see the whole problem with consolidation….the “gets mines” drain on taxpayers are afraid of consolidation.

  • Anonymous

    Many of the problems you outline are concerns that should be examined closely by a direct stakeholder, e.g. Dollar, to make recommendations on such things as workforce size, cost allocation or per job billing to each sponsor entity, etc.  Implementing those should then be recommended to the boards to act on the recommendations.  Those recommendations should include the method of personnel reduction whether on percentage of staff, seniority, or other grounds, but excluding any consideration for “kinfolk” or “friends spouses”, etc.  Paying for projects and similar issues shoudl be pretty much a no brainer since the 2 separate entities will continue to exist, have specific boundaries, different tax rates, and control of the projects through budgeting adherence.  General maintenance and similar actions should probably be allocated on some reasonable allocation method.

    Consolidate and reduce workforce.  Add the police chief to the equation before it is too late, and then look to the BOA/BOS consolidation, trash collection contract, etc.

    OK, Khaki, your turn………

  • Anonymous

    “kinfolk’ & “friends spouses” etc, really stands out. It’s made Ntz/AC what it is today. Who you’re kin to is the age old mantra around here. But we all know that don’t we.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Consolidation is a licence for the politician to steal from the taxpayers. Can anyone pull some truthful facts were it saves taxpayers money!! My research has found otherwise that go back to Australia and it does benefit the taxpayer at all!!!

  • Anonymous

    and hasn’t the governemnt already taken over health care for old people and poor people?

  • Anonymous

    Administration of the finance end of the program which may have its benefits – have you ever noted the amount the doctors/hospital bills read when submitted and the amount the gov’t pays which is accepted by the dr/hosp (and I believe somewhat lower than what the insurance rate would be)..  The difference is major!  However, we have not descended to the depths of Walter Reed and the debacle of facility maintenance and health care which was widely publicized a year or so ago.

  • Anonymous

    yep, and both are going down the tubes.

  • Anonymous

    Simple enough when you consider that fewer people will be required at all levels of the combined government, you won’t just reallocate all the current salary money to the remaining staff! That means lower salary cost, lower insurance cost due to fewer employees, lower benefits required, fewer cars/trucks for transportation and likely, as you espouse in your other comments, fewer services.  The tax decrease you desire is to be determined, but I wouldn’t bank on it just yet.