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Forums will help us make best choices

City and county government consolidation is a hot-button issue in this community and has been for many years.

I’m not sure the origin of the consolidation debate within our community, as it well predates not only my arrival to this community last year but also perhaps my arrival on this planet.

According to some people, the debate has been going on since the late 1950s.

The argument is that the City of Natchez is losing population and Adams County is sparsely populated anyway. Therefore duplication of basic services, including sewers, fire protection, water, garbage collection, tax collection, and the list goes on, is wasteful and unnecessary.

Over the years, at least one comprehensive study was conducted at a huge expense to taxpayers to determine the feasibility of consolidation and the best route to get there.

That study, however, was never implemented and since then only portions of the city and county government operations have been consolidated. I’m not even sure if those consolidated services were included in that study.

In any event, that study was conducted in late 1970s or early 1980s, as I understand it, and would be outdated at this point.

Yet, the issue of consolidation persists, with discussions ranging from having just one law enforcement agency to having just one governmental board.

Seems every armchair governmental expert you ask in Adams County has an opinion on how best to consolidate the city and county governments and or operations.

I’ve lived and worked as a journalist in several Mississippi counties — and several in other states — throughout my 30-year newspaper career and nowhere has consolidation of city and county government or operations been such a topic of interest.

Yes, a few cities and counties shared a portion of some services through “interlocal” agreements to assist on some fire calls and law enforcement calls, etc. None of those communities, however, ever proposed having one consolidated city and county board as a push in Adams County calls for.

Some of the folks who advocate having one board want the county to absorb the city and at least a few of that plan’s vocal proponents seem to be residents of the county who are unhappy with the level of services they are receiving in the county.

Still other proponents claim that the city has a shrinking population and does not need to exist as a separate governmental board so they want to turn it all over to the county.

Under Mississippi law, however, only cities can collect and receive sales taxes and to abolish the city and turn it all over to the county would require a change in state law to allow, among other items, the county to levy and collect sales taxes.

Consolidation of city and county services is a multifaceted proposition that few, if any, of us, my self included, fully understand.

If you’re really interested in making our local governments better and more efficient, then please turn out for the series of forums starting at 5 p.m. today at the Natchez Convention Center.

Impartial local government experts from the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University will explain the forms of government available under Mississippi law and the pros and cons of each. Then at 5 p.m. May 21 a second meeting will focus on consolidation as it has worked in other communities. Experts who have studied those issues will conduct the May 21 forum.

If you are interested in consolidation in an effort to make our local government more efficient, this is your chance to learn all the angles and options from the experts. Then, we can make the best decisions, whatever they may be, going forward.

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