July 27, 2017 | News

WTOC Investigates: Savannah, Chatham County support merged government

Writer: Elizabeth Rawlins

Published July 21, 2017

Many of you feel like this battle between the City of Savannah and Chatham County governments will never end. Many other cities and counties in Georgia have been in this very same position and their solution - a merger that would end all mergers - by consolidating city and county government. 

WTOC has been investigating what it would take to become Savannah-Chatham County. This is the one merger that both the city and county have said publicly they agree upon.

WTOC first broke this story last week that state lawmakers will push for state funding during the 2018 legislative session to conduct a study on whether merging the city and county government would be feasible.

The feasibility study will look at several options including merging only the city of Savannah and Chatham County, as well as all municipalities and Chatham County.

If the study reveals there are feasible options to consolidate, then it would be up to the voters to decide.

WTOC conducted a poll last week on Facebook, asking Chatham County residents whether they would support a total consolidation. Of the 431 people who participated, 57 percent were in favor of some form of total consolidation.

Only 44 percent voted to keep all the governments as is.

Georgia lawmakers are very aware of the ongoing dispute between the City of Savannah and Chatham County. GA Senator Lester Jackson said last week he's fed up and disappointed that the city's crime problem is having to compete for undivided attention.

Right now, there is a total of eight consolidated governments in Georgia. 

The University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government is already slated to conduct a feasibility study. Lawmakers just have to get the money approved during the upcoming legislative session.

We got a hold of some research documents from the Carl Vinson Institute detailing how some of Georgia's largest governments were able to consolidate. 

The Carl Vinson Institute has also produced a video about local government consolidation.

The first city and county in Georgia to consolidate was the city of Columbus and Muscogee County back in 1970. The process took almost two decades but according to a report released by UGA's Carl Vinson Institute, "county taxpayers complained of being taxed for services primarily used by city residents.... city and county commissions often disagreed over both major and minor issues."

But consolidating eliminated intergovernmental competition, increased efficiency and economic development. 

Athens- Clarke County completely consolidated in 1990. Until then, the city and county shared some services which ultimately led to arguments over who paid for what.

In 1995, Augusta-Richmond County was formed. There were a couple of cities within the county that did not want to be a part of the consolidated government and thus still operates as a separate city within the boundaries of the consolidated government.

While they don't always see eye-to-eye, both the city and county agree that consolidation would be the merger that would end all mergers.

"I think it's something that is perhaps long overdue,” said Chatham County Chairman Al Scott.

“It would behoove all of us to sit down and figure out what would be good for a consolidated government,” said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach.