Is combining goverments worthwhile?

Published 12:03 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

NATCHEZ — Two members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors said voters and candidates often clamor about consolidation just about every four years, but pooling two local governments into one is much more complicated than those people might realize.

Board President Darryl Grennell and District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus met with professors from the Alcorn State University School of Business last week to discuss the possibility of performing a study into consolidation.

Grennell said attendees of the meeting talked generally about consolidation, and no plans were made about Alcorn performing any kind of study.

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“I have a feeling that I don’t think (the Alcorn professors) wanted to take that on,” Grennell said. “It’s quite a task (and) a major cost for that type of study,” Grennell said.

Grennell said consolidation is a delicate topic that would require drastic changes and legislation.

Lazarus said the professors did not seem to want to get involved in a study of consolidation.

“It wasn’t the response I was hoping for,” Lazarus said.

Alcorn marketing professor Kimball Marshall, who met with the supervisors along finance professor and interim dean of the business school, Vivek Bhargava, said the meeting consisted of an informal discussion, and no plans exist for a study.

Lazarus said he contacted Ruth Nichols, a Natchez Chamber of Commerce member and director of external relations for Alcorn, and she set up the meeting at his request.

Lazarus said he wanted to call the meeting because an ongoing conversation about consolidation seems to pulse throughout the public, but there are many unanswered questions about what it would actually accomplish.

“We don’t know what we’re talking about (in terms of consolidation), and we need to find out if it’s something we need to do to save money,” Lazarus said.

Grennell said the meeting was more or less a brainstorming session, but it brought up some important aspects of consolidation.

Since there is no language in the state constitution for a consolidated city and county government, Grennell said the state legislature would have to approve consolidation with a two-thirds majority.

Grennell said Alcorn professors said they could possibly look into studying consolidation of certain departments, such as law enforcement, but no plans were made for such a study.

“The door is still open” Grennell said of a departmental consolidation study.

Grennell and Lazarus both said if the city and county were to consolidate law enforcement, a new building would need to be built to house the department.

Grennell said another complication with consolidating law enforcement departments, for example, is that sheriff’s deputies work at the will and pleasure of the sheriff or the supervisors, and Natchez Police officers are considered civil servants and are hired by the civil service commission.

Also, deputies cannot enforce city ordinances or use radar, and both departments pay different salaries.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Grennell said. “It’s very complicated.”

Grennell said the first phase of any type of study would be to ascertain the mission.

“We would have to set the mission of consolidation, part would be to save money to enhance services,” Grennell said.

A study would have to find if any services were actually being duplicated and if consolidation would in fact save money, he said.

“Not as many services are being duplicated as much as you think,” Lazarus said.

Grennell and Lazarus said the current timing for any sort of action even on a study of consolidation is bad right now because the board of supervisors and the City of Natchez mayor and board of aldermen might look different after next year’s elections.

Lazarus said he had hoped a study could either dispel a common belief that consolidation would save money or prove that it is the right thing to do.

“People jump up and say consolidate, consolidate, but they’ve never really thought about it,” he said.

Grennell said private consulting companies might be more inclined and prepared to take on the task of a consolidation study.

Lazarus said he invited Grennell as the president of the supervisors and Mayor Jake Middleton to the meeting, but Middleton did not attend.