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December 11, 2017 | Spotlight

Institute explores efficiencies of Evans County functional consolidation

An Institute feasibility assessment explores the ramifications of consolidating government services in Evans County and the cities of Bellville, Claxton, Daisy and Hagan.

Writer: Roger Nielsen

Photo above courtesy Claxton Enterprise

Leaders in Evans County and its four incorporated cities are exploring the logistics of combining additional government services to reduce operating costs and insurance rates—opportunities for savings that local officials cited in a recent Institute of Government consolidation feasibility assessment.

The feasibility study synthesizes data from interviews, a review of financial documents and case studies to provide officials in Evans County and the cities of Bellville, Claxton, Daisy and Hagan with critical information to consider as they explore combining essential services or full governmental consolidation.

Lead author and Institute faculty member Jessica Varsa delivered the feasibility report in late October, and local leaders are now considering how and when to hold intergovernmental consolidation discussions. “The report does not offer specific recommendations for or against consolidation,” Varsa said. “However, it does provide a road map for understanding ways in which full or functional consolidation of governments in Evans County might be achieved.”

According to Claxton Mayor Terry Branch, some cooperative partnerships already exist, like the Economic Development Authority of Claxton and Evans County, and it appears the governments could reduce expenses by consolidating other services.

“The city is ready and willing to meet with the county to discuss shared services,” Branch said. “The bottom line is, we can definitely see some areas where we may join shared services, and the fire department may be one of them.”

Merging the Evans County and Claxton Fire Departments could save costs through better utilization of equipment, less overlap in service area and possibly faster response times, according to the report. Another benefit could be an improved ISO score, which is an Insurance Services Office risk analysis that affects fire insurance rates.

Institute faculty also investigated potential economies of scale from merging water and sewer services, emergency management, code enforcement and law enforcement. “Based on interviews and our analysis, law enforcement and fire appeared to be the best candidates for increased efficiency and cost savings through consolidation,” Varsa said.

The report also described some of the fiscal factors that can impact full governmental consolidation, including the potential loss of some tax revenue, transition expenses and adjusting pay differentials between city and county employees.