Pulaski County voters reject consolidation with Hawkinsville

alopez@macon.comNovember 6, 2013 

A bid to unite the Pulaski County and the Hawkinsville city government failed Tuesday, despite a two-year effort that supporters hoped would save taxpayer money over the long haul.

The consolidation referendum required passage by both county and city residents. In Tuesday’s elections, a majority of city voters supported the proposed new charter in a 279-260 vote, but a majority voted no to the charter in the 870-517 county vote.

Donald Johnson spent nearly two years working with a 16-member committee and several state partners to prepare the proposed charter for the referendum votes. They worked to get the charter approved in the state General Assembly and by the U.S. Department of Justice.

After consolidation passed in Macon and Bibb County, Hawkinsville-Pulaski County would have been the ninth unified government in the state.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Johnson said. “I think it was a good deal for Pulaski.”

Johnson administered a Facebook group, “Pulaski Consolidation -- Yes or No,” to provide information to residents and dispel myths about the effects of consolidation. He also led an informational meeting in October to discuss consolidation with residents in person, and he made the presentation available on YouTube.

While there was no organized opposition to consolidation, Johnson said, people’s worries ranged from possible new restrictions on gun rights to the laying off of county and city workers.

“People are always afraid of change,” Johnson said.

In fact, according to the proposed charter, very little would have changed. Many services in the county already are consolidated, like the sheriff’s office and the fire department, and county and city employees would have been protected from losing their jobs. County and city ordinances would have remained in effect and commissioners would have had two years to eliminate conflicting laws.

Johnson said consolidation may have failed because supporters did not provide county residents with a sufficient answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”

“What was in it for them was savings,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Larry Garrett, a certified public accountant and advisor to the charter commission, explained potential savings to residents at the October informational session. He said the consolidated government had the potential to save the county as much as $120,000 per year, though not immediately, as the proposed charter protected current employees from losing their jobs.

Johnson theorized that many farmers and rural Pulaski County residents simply did not want to be part of the city government.

They enjoy having a single county commissioner and may not have wanted to deal with the proposed five-member commission, he said.

Pulaski County Commissioner Butch Hall, whose position would have been eliminated, agreed with Johnson’s way of thinking.

“I believe in a sole commission,” Hall said. “I think it’s probably the best form of government you can have.”

The failure of the consolidation effort follows a similar referendum rejected by county voters in 1999.

Johnson thinks the idea will be brought up again, he said, “but probably not for a few years.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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