Jacksonville did it. Lots of other places did it. And now might be the best time for Georgetown to follow suit and consider consolidation of city and county government.
Whoa! What is the big idea?
Well, the idea is that cutting taxes could save residents and businesses millions of dollars every year.
The City of Georgetown has an operating budget of about $30 million. City residents and businesses within the city pay property taxes, city taxes, business licenses and fees.
This is an additional layer on top of the county taxes and fees everyone pays.
There’s a mindset for some people that city residents are being taxed twice but not getting the benefit of those dollars.
For businesses this means their cost of operation puts them at a disadvantage compared with competitors outside the city limits. It also means when you frequent local businesses, you pay more.
As we’ve reported in the past week or so, there have been a half-dozen significant employee resignations and a retirement:
City administrator, finance director, assistant finance director, purchasing agent, planning director and IT services head.
With those six vacancies, the city could likely save at least a half-million dollars a year if they were not replaced.
With close to 200 employees, there’s a good bet that many of these folks who are doing a fine job are doing the same sort of job that county folks are doing.
If Georgetown County and the City of Georgetown consolidated, each of those six specific functions in the city already has an existing counterpart working for the county.
Even through attrition rather than outright cuts, the cost-savings to taxpayers would be significant.
Personnel is the most expensive part of any business.
Is it realistic we could save a third of overall city annual expenses, maybe more? Ten million in savings a year? Without a real audit of the idea we can’t be sure how much could be saved, but we are confident it would be millions annually.
And then there’s the core problem that in many ways the mayor and members of city council seem to spend so much more time arguing with one another than they do in reaching workable solutions to handle the needs of the city.
The Georgetown Times has been around since 1798. In fact, in May we completed our 214th year as South Carolina’s oldest continuously-published newspaper.
Too often, news stories in the paper tell of disputes, problems and a less-than-friendly way of doing the people’s business.
Georgetown County covers 814 square miles and has a population of 61,000. That includes the seven or eight square miles within the city limits and the 8,900 city residents.
Jacksonville/ Duval County, Florida, has 918 square miles and an estimated population of 865,000.
Duval County is 12 percent larger than Georgetown County, but its population is 14 times as high.
There’s no doubt that Jacksonville has retained its identity as a major city in Florida, even while consolidation has apparently worked for that area since it occurred in October 1968.
City residents, businesses and industry not only pay taxes, but they also pay high-dollar prices for electricity.
What’s ironic about that is that Santee Cooper’s Winyah Generating Station provides electricity to the city of Georgetown, and to many electric cooperatives. That includes Santee Electric Co-op, which has an office just outside the city limits of Georgetown.
A business inside the city pays from a third to a half more for electricity than one that is served by the co-op.
One of the reasons more businesses choose to locate outside the city limits is the high cost of doing business.
Heritage, and the future
People who were born and raised in Georgetown or Georgetown County know much of their heritage.
Many of our friends and neighbors who have moved here from somewhere else came — at least in part — because of that heritage. It should be respected and treasured.
But, it makes sense to look at ways to find solutions rather than to point fingers of blame.
Consolidation could provide a synergy — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — to help find solutions, cut costs and lead to innovation.
Georgetown would still be Georgetown, but the savings in time and energy, when directed elsewhere, could do wonders.
Think about it, and contact members of city and county council and the Georgetown County Legislative Delegation.
Let us know, too, what your thoughts may be on the issue.
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