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Albany-Dougherty consolidation issue may see new life (VIDEO ADDED)

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- A two-year push to unite the governments of Albany and Dougherty County under one banner, long thought dead after it failed to pass the Georgia House earlier this year, sprang to life Wednesday when a state senator pledged to reintroduce the legislation when the General Assembly convenes.

In a surprising announcement, Sen. Freddie Powell Sims told members of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that she intends to "honor a promise" made to allow voters to decide whether the governments of Albany and Dougherty County should merge.

The announcement, which came as Sims and other members of the state legislative delegation were speaking to chamber members about the upcoming session, revives an initiative that was thought dead when it failed to pass the House before the 2010 term expired.

Sims said her decision comes as she attempts to fulfill a promise made to local elected officials and constituents to allow the consolidation issue to come up for a public vote.

"The promise is and was that every citizen will get an opportunity to vote," Sims told the group.

Last year it was Sims who slowed consideration of what was then known as H.B. 800, a House bill offered by Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, that would have called for a referendum with a charter approved by a 2005 consolidation charter committee after local officials voiced concerns that they had not had an opportunity to review the bill and add their input.

So during the months between sessions, both the Albany and Dougherty County leadership debated, argued, bemoaned and otherwise discussed various aspects of consolidation with each body refining the charter used in H.B. 800 before each took a vote to decide whether to send a charter to Atlanta for consideration by the General Assembly.

The city voted to send its version, while the county voted against continuing the process.

The city's new version of H.B. 800 was then renamed S.B. 538 and was introduced by Sims earlier this year and crossed over into the House, where it sat in committee awaiting discussion as the General Assembly's term expired April 30.