There is an infinite amount of unknowns on the other side of consolidation. Will it save us money? Supposedly, but we do not really know. What we do know is that a group of politicians who have never hesitated to raise property taxes are suddenly worried about taxes going up if consolidation passes.
Will it bring unity? We do not really know, but we do know all the politicians who have divided us will be swept out of jobs, term limited in the worse case scenario, and are now lined up against consolidation. When the usual suspects are against consolidation, we can be certain it has nothing to do with community interest and everything to do with their own interests.
Will it bring growth? This one is not an unknown. It is absolutely known. When I was on Macon City Council, some members of council routinely wanted to defund the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. All the major projects the authority brought to town were outside the city limits. One adviser to the authority leaned over to me in a meeting once and said, “Why the hell would we want to bring stuff into the city? Just look at what we have to deal with.” He was right. That all goes away with consolidation.
The questions are limitless. The answers are few. But there are also finite knowns about what we have now.
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We know that the city is dysfunctional. Members of City Council are constantly combative both among themselves and with the mayor. That dysfunction spills over to relations with the Macon Water Authority, the Industrial Authority, the Bibb County Commission, private businesses and more.
We know the City Council disappears once consolidation goes through. That is a win for the community. We know that consolidation makes it more difficult for divisive figures like Jack Ellis to come back to power. Given the demographics of the community and the various communities of interest that must be appealed to countywide, it makes divisiveness harder to instigate. But even in the worst-case scenario, there would be term limits to mitigate the damage. That’s something we do not have now.
We know that counties that have voluntarily consolidated in Georgia have done very well and those that have involuntarily consolidated have had a hard time.
Columbus-Muscogee thrives. They attract business, stand united, and are increasingly competitive against Macon and Bibb County. Athens and Clarke County have their act together, too.
On the other hand, Augusta and Richmond County remain a troubled shotgun marriage. The marriage happened when Augusta lost control of its finances, behaved irresponsibly, and the state married the two together. The bitterness remains.
We do not know, but we can be fairly sure that if Macon continues as it is going, we will head toward the Augusta-Richmond County model and we will all lose as a result.
There are an infinite number of unknown possibilities with consolidation, some are good and some are bad. What we know more than anything else, however, is where we are and where we are headed. Few in the county think we are headed in the right direction as we are presently constituted.
On July 31, we have the chance, as a community, to vote to change our course and embrace a new future of our choosing. I will vote yes, not because I or anyone else has all the answers, but because I see our present and I know we can do much better by abandoning it in favor of consolidation.
Erick Erickson is a CNN contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.