The news that Milledgeville and Baldwin County are seeking to merge as eight other city-counties in the state, including Macon-Bibb County, have done should not surprise anyone. And while the proposal, House Bill 67, will soon sit on the governor’s desk for signing, the people of Baldwin County will ultimately decide the issue.
Fact is, we’ve known for some time that the state of Georgia has too many counties and too many cities with populations under 1,000. Our own then-House Majority Leader Larry Walker, D-Perry, helped to propose the Future Communities Commission 20 years ago. Walker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The economic reality is that some of these small counties cannot continue to financially exist without extraordinarily high property taxes.” The charge to the committee was to come up with ways to combine cities/county services. Lawmakers were just not ready. When the Future Communities Commission’s report hit the House floor in 1997, it died an ignominious death immediately never to be heard from again.
While some lawmakers look to consolidation as an act of saving money and to sell their communities on the idea, that raises unsubstantiated expectations. Initially, consolidated governments can cost more to run than the two separate governments, something Macon-Bibb County is finding out as they go into their second budget cycle.
Over the long haul, however, the combined governments can slow the growth of government and make them more efficient in time and money.