If we’re really serious about consolidation…

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I like the idea recently offered up by Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell calling for a series of public forums addressing the topic of consolidation of city and county governmental services.

The mayor’s proposal calls for a series of educational meetings with governmental experts from Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government, including:

* A discussion on the options for Natchez and Adams County with Stennis Institute speakers Dallas Breen, David Parrish and Edward French.

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* An non-local panel of a lawyer, city administrator and county administrator who would field a question-and-answer session regarding services and concepts for consolidating services.

* A discussion on the process of changing governmental forms, a study on consolidating services, and a look at full consolidation and dissolution.

* A wrap-up discussion would include participation from the board of aldermen and the county supervisors.

All of those topics sound great to me and at a proposed cost of approximately $12,000 to fund accommodations for the speakers, seems a bargain deal, especially since a full-blown study is estimated to cost some $100,000.

The city and county have already produced full-blown studies in the past. Those studies, however, were done decades ago and might not be relevant today. The previous studies, however, could be used in the public forum discussions.

I’m all for making government more efficient and consolidation seems like a real option. That’s why it baffled me last week, when Adams County Board of Supervisor’s members rejected the idea of helping fund the series of forums at a cost of $4,000 to the county.

Supervisors said they did not believe anyone really wanted to consolidate operations. Never mind that in recent weeks the Board of Supervisors had ordered up the county’s own study of consolidating the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and the Natchez Police Department.

Wonder who they will get to conduct that study?

Seems it would be wise to have that be a part of the Stennis Center forums series and to get information from the institute’s experts on the topic.

If we are really serious about making the best choices to consolidate governmental operations, a full weighing of the options should be put on the table and have everyone weigh in so we can choose the best path forward.

That’s why I am somewhat skeptical of a group advocating dissolving Natchez government and handing it all over to Adams County.

Who knows, after all the cards are on the table dissolving the City of Natchez might be the best option. However, I don’t think dissolving an institution as long-established and as old as Natchez is something that should be done just because enough people put their signatures on a petition.

And, is handing the city’s operations over to Adams County (that has decades of uncollected garbage fees and recently had uncollected garbage lining county streets for several weeks) really the best decision?

As others have pointed out, Mississippi counties cannot collect sales taxes, which are a large part of funding city operations.

If we are really serious about making a more efficient government to serve Natchez and Adams County, a series of forums on the topic would be well-worth the investment.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.