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Albany-Dougherty consolidation effort likely on hold until 2012

ALBANY, Ga. -- The push to allow a public vote on whether to unify the governments of Albany and Dougherty County will likely stall until 2012 to wait for the latest census data, officials say.

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims had said she would reintroduce a bill calling for a referendum on consolidation during this term of the General Assembly, but talks between city officials and the assembly's Office of Legislative Counsel have led to a recommendation to wait until 2012.

The intent, according to City Attorney Nathan Davis, is to allow the latest census data to be used to draw the various district maps, which are based on population.

In an e-mail between Davis and Shawn Marie Story, the deputy legislative counsel for the Georgia General Assembly, Davis states Appendix A of the document would have to include data from the 2010 census.

"Thanks for this morning's discussion. In light of the impact of the 2010 census data (which you feel may be available later this year), you suggested it may be better to introduce the bill in the 2012 session," the e-mail states. "You explained that Appendix A must be must be (sic) changed to reflect the 2010 census."

A few minutes later Story responded, saying that the only changes that have been made to the suggested charter in the previous bill were to change the dates, but that it may have "issues" which are being reviewed by the office of legislative counsel.

"It is my understanding that we we'll not be able to formulate districts based on the 2010 Census until after the 2010 session. Let's discuss this later this week," she said.

Now two weeks later, the Albany City Commission is set to discuss the matter at a special called meeting Tuesday.

In compliance with a request filed by The Herald under Georgia's Open Record's Act, the city provided a copy of the latest draft of the proposed unification charter, which is the key document that establishes the framework of a consolidated government.

That document states the new government would have eight commissioners and one full-time chief elected official or CEO. The commissioners will be elected from eight districts, while the CEO will be elected in a countywide race. All of the races will be nonpartisan, and there will be no term limits.

Under the charter, commissioners will be paid at a base rate of $15,000 per year until they become either certified county commissioners or certified municipal officials, at which time they'll get an additional $1,500 per year.

The CEO would get a base salary of $25,000 per year and would receive up to a $2,500 raise once becoming certified.

While the draft charter -- termed Draft 4 on the document -- calls for a full-time CEO, it also calls for a full-time manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city.

The charter also calls for the Albany Police Department and the Dougherty County Police Departments to merge, with a chief of the consolidated department to be appointed by the manager.

All constitutional and other elected officials -- judges, district attorney, coroner, etc. -- would retain their existing authority.

The charter would divide the county into two service districts: the Urban Services District and the General Services District.

The Urban Services District will encompass what is today the corporate city limits of the city of Albany, while the General Services District will include the entire county.