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Gainesville not merging with county
City not interested in helping to balance the county budget
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Despite another tough budget year, Gainesville and Hall County officials don't plan to merge services any time soon.

Gainesville City Council members made their opinions clear in a letter to the Hall County Board of Commissioners, putting down any suggestions about consolidation.

"While we sympathize with your situation and appreciate your admiration of the city and the high level of service we provide, the city has no intent of pursuing such an arrangement," states the letter, which is signed by all five council members.

Council members, who said a few commissioners began talking about the idea to city staff, aren't calling out names.

"Several of us have heard of the desire of some commissioners to merge certain city and county services as a means to help the county, among other things, balance the county budget," the letter states.

Chairman Tom Oliver said Thursday he hasn't been part of a consolidation discussion in years.

"Maybe some of the individual commissioners have talked about it, but that's the city's decision to pursue consolidating services," he said. "In Georgia, cities are a creature of the legislature, whereas counties are created under the Constitution. If the city decides not to provide certain services, then under the Constitution, we would have to provide."

Council members have also emphasized their opinions to the commissioners in person.

"In trying to keep the peace, we verbally told one or two of them that we weren't interested in consolidations right now," Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said. "We've consolidated multiple departments within ourselves and reduced our own work force by 10 percent."

Council members remember the outcome of a merger in 2005 and 2006 when the two governments shared management in their human resources, building inspections and planning departments. When the agreement dissolved, the city spent nearly $1 million to purchase equipment and assume operating costs.

"In the past, we've had memorandums of understanding about the providing of certain governmental services, and that functioned well with no duplicate effort in the various programs," council member Bob Hamrick said. "But we would be proceeding along and then the county would come in and say they no longer wanted to have merged services, so we would discontinue the merger."

Hamrick still believes some type of merger could be positive in the future.

"I think it would behoove us to look at some services that we could have a memorandum of understanding about," he said. "One of the things that has been discussed for a long period of time has been Parks and Recreation, which could be possible."

Council members aren't opposed to saving dollars, Dunagan emphasized.

"If it will save taxpayer money and provide the same services being provided now, we're more than willing," he said.

But council members agree that time will come after the county sees a better budget year.

"To suggest that we consider diluting the services we provide and possibly jeopardize our financial soundness because the county is having budget difficulties is not acceptable," the letter states.

"We have confidence that the board of commissioners will be able to make the hard decisions all entities, including Gainesville, have made."

Any future talks will not include complete consolidation, Hamrick added.

"Some places have special conditions, such as Athens-Clarke County with the university system that makes up so much of that area and Columbus-Muscogee County with Fort Benning that occupies so much territory," he said. "Those make sense, but it's not the answer in every instance."

Council members are standing behind a consolidation study conducted a few years ago by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which said the two governments shouldn't combine.

"We would further encourage you not to make consolidation of services a political issue," council members included in the letter. "It fosters unrest and distrust among your employees, who have already suffered loss in retirement benefits and continued furloughs. It also does not serve the citizenry, who expect the business of the county to carry on."

At the conclusion of the letter, council members said they "consider this matter closed."

"With the way the county is operating, we don't see it happening," Dunagan said. "The letter essentially says, ‘We're doing fine. Leave us alone.'"

 

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