On Thursday, February 13, the chairman of the Baldwin County Democratic Party, Quentin T. Howell, spoke with the Macon Examiner about the prospect of Milledgeville and Baldwin County merging or consolidating.
Consolidation has been mostly an initiative pushed legislatively by Republicans in recent years. Most recently, Central Georgia's largest city--Macon-- had merged with Bibb County at the beginning of the new year.
Milledgville's city council voted unanimously on Tuesday, February 11, to table and amend a consolidation charter proposal, instead of sending it to lawmakers in the Georgia General Assembly.
Milledgeville mayor Richard Bentley told Macon's WGXA-TV that the consolidation proposal had no chance to be on the November 2014 ballot as a referendum.
Bentley cited weather delays and a shortened session in the General Assembly: "We want to take our time with it we want to be deliberate with it but at the same time we don't want to languish with it, and we want to make sure we get it out there as quick as we can to be voted on."
Other issues include how district lines in a consolidated Milldgedville-Baldwin County would be drawn, and who will serve as the consolidated government's top cop-- the county sheriff or Milledgeville's Chief of Police.
How will minority representation be impacted in Baldwin County?
According to the 2010 census, Baldwin County's largest city and county seat lost approximately six percent of its population over the past decade (2000-2010). Milledgeville had 18,757 residents according to the 2000 Census, but the current Census results show the population has dropped to 17,715.
In Milledgeville, the African-American population has dropped from 47.6 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2010.
Questions have been raised about the pros and cons of consolidation and Howell had recently told WMGT-TV in January the following:
" I want to make sure to present the point that I support and the groups that I represent as a community leader supports increasing employment issue, lowering taxes, and also to do anything to better our area. Unfortunately, this consolidation (proposal), as it's written right now, does neither of the three."
Is consolidation about economic development and efficiency in government or a political power grab in Milledgeville?
The Baldwin-Milledgeville Chamber of Commerce has advocated for consolidation and the the area's state senator Bert Jones and its state representative Rusty Kidd are poised to push the consolidation issue via 'local legislation' as well.
Howell had also expressed a concern about the financial burden of consolidating and said " it puts the county into debt for the next 10 or 12 years," said Howell.
"It has an additional tax under Section seven called a franchise fee that county residents don't pay now, but will pay later, and it also has poor representation through the community in it."
On Wednesday, February 5, the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to approve a resolution asking the local delegation (Rusty Kidd and Bert Jones) to introduce the unification charter to the General Assembly.
County commissioners Henry Craig, Sammy Hall and Johnny Westmoreland voted for the resolution, but Emily Davis and Tommy French voted against it.
Commissioner Davis told WMAZ-TV that plans for consolidation must be solidified and discussed before any further action is taken.