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Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 10:23am

Consolidation Is Tough Sell In Savannah

Governor Nathan Deal is expected to sign a bill allowing voters in Macon and Bibb County to decide whether they want to merge city and county governments.

If voters there approve the change in July, it would leave Savannah and Chatham County as anti-consolidation hold-outs.

Other Georgia mid-sized cities -- like Columbus, Augusta and Athens -- have merged, citing cost-savings and the ability to speak with one-voice to businesses and other governments.

The last time Chatham County studied consolidation in the late 1990's, local officials voted it down.

Then-county chairman and now-chairman candidate Billy Hair says, Chatham County has seven independent cities -- far more than the other counties had.

"All these small municipalities have their own structures," Hair says. "They have their own mayors, their own city councils, their own police departments, their own fire departments and their own zoning departments. Consolidation would adversely affect that."

Hair says, even if consolidation involved only Savannah and Chatham County, city and county voters have a historical distrust of each other and likely would vote it down.

"The people in Savannah are suspicious of the fact that that might dilute the black vote," Hair says. "And the people in the county are suspicious in the sense that that might raise their taxes. They don't want to pay city taxes. So, you have a set of factors playing in that would make it extremely difficult to consolidate Chatham County."

Still, officials merged city and county police forces seven years ago.