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Consolidation Conundrum

Suburban mayors sound off in opposition.



At a forum in Cordova last Thursday, emcee and WREG anchor Richard Ransom asked the hundred or so attendees for a show of hands from those who support city and county consolidation.

One hand shot up near the front row, and the crowd stifled tense laughter. A woman near the back whispered, "There's always one in the bunch."

Not only were the majority of citizens at the forum opposed to the consolidation of city and county governments, the four suburban mayors present also were staunchly against the idea.

"Our greatest concern is the property tax issue," says Collierville mayor Stan Joyner. "We see no benefits to the residents of Collierville if consolidation occurs."

Last month, the Shelby County Commission approved the formation of a consolidation charter commission, which would prepare a plan for merging city and county governments. The City Council approved a similar resolution this week, and a plan for consolidation should go before voters in November of next year. Voters rejected consolidation efforts in 1962 and 1971.

Proponents of consolidation say it will save taxpayers money through merging of services, as well as make it easier to attract new businesses. But the mayors at the forum, hosted by the Shelby County Chambers of Commerce Alliance and held at the Memphis Area Home Builders Association, believe otherwise.

"You can't show me hardcore evidence that consolidation really saves money," Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald said.

To start the event, consolidation expert Pat Hardy gave a presentation on the pros and cons of consolidation. According to his research for the University of Tennessee's Institute for Public Service, Hardy found that consolidated governments don't necessarily save money.

"Expenditures tend to rise under consolidated jurisdictions," Hardy said. "The cost rise happens because new or expanded services are required to bring the areas with the lower level of service up."

For example, a consolidated government may have to add additional resources to improve police or fire service to areas that were once served by the smaller rural departments. On the other hand, proponents believe abolishing smaller services would result in savings.

Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy expressed concern over fair representation in a consolidated government. From what she'd been told, the municipalities would likely only get one or two representatives on a consolidated city and county commission. Lakeland mayor Scott Carmichael shared Goldsworthy's concern, since his town only includes about 11,000 people.

"In Lakeland, we feel like the red-headed stepchild," Carmichael said. "We don't have a zip code, a post office, or a section in the phonebook, but we'd expect fair representation."

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