I recently attended a county commission meeting to ask Dougherty County Chairman Jeff Sinyard to represent me and others in our county on bringing the city and county consolidation issue back to life. Chairman Sinyard did the right thing and promptly sent a letter to Mayor Dorothy Hubbard to consider taking action. Asking the mayor to get involved was necessary because the consolidation plan had a vote of 5 to 2 by the city commissioners in favor of moving forward with a charter. The county had voted 4 to 3 to not even let the public have a vote on consolidation.
My purpose for making this request on behalf of myself and others in our community was to bring attention to the fact that our property taxes are extremely high. It seemed no one was taking any action on this already approved tax-saving initiative by the City Commission. We need to find ways to cut government expenses, and the consolidation plan was one of those alternatives to accomplish this. Another purpose was to bring attention to the fact that some of our elected commissioners had voted to not even let the citizens of this county have a vote on how their government is run. This was the point that was most disturbing. When our elected officials do not want us to express our views, then it is time to vote them out of office.
When others were interviewed by the media about their views on consolidation, it appeared they were making generalized statements on one aspect without taking into account the full details of the past studies. These studies were not cheap, and both the city and county had approved significant taxpayer funding for these plans. Now it seems that some commissioners do not want to discuss the issue again, even though many others had unanimously approved moving forward with the plans, including a grand jury.
What is also disturbing is that it seems a few commissioners do not understand the details of the transition plan. Comments have been made about there not being any savings. One example was bringing the Dougherty County Police salaries up to the level of the Albany Police officers. So I did my own calculation. According to (Dougherty Police Chief) Don Cheek, there are 55 county police officers. If there is an adjustment of $4 to $5 dollars per hour, the annual impact could be in a range of $457,600 to $572,000. This could potentially be more than offset by reducing the inefficiencies with several duplicated departments between the city and county. The previous consolidation transition plans indicated a high level projection for an annual savings of $370,000 up to $3 million, with one of the studies projecting $2 million in annual savings. However, the actual savings would not be known until there are decisions made related to how consolidation would be implemented. There are also other efficiency benefits that could be achieved by having a consolidated government, such as quicker decisions, less negotiations and payments between the city and county, and being more competitive.
So I bring this to the public to be sure they are aware of the facts. Taking generalized opposition statements from some of our commissioners can prevent us from taking the appropriate steps in making our government much more efficient. I decided to get involved, research the facts and then to express my opinion. I ask others to also get involved and speak out. It seems there are some irresponsible officials who think if there is not a large group of people showing up at these commission meetings, then it is not important. They fail to realize one or two may be representing many others that could not attend. They are also watching their actions. The citizens of Albany and Dougherty County should be asking, if the commissioners do not want to pursue consolidation, then what are they going to do to reduce property taxes, and how are they going to make our local government more efficient?
Charles Westbrook has been a resident of Albany for the past 10 years and has 25 years of experience in bank operations management. He is a past vice president and president of the River Pointe Neighborhood Association.