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January 8, 2014

County asked to push unification vote

MILLEDGEVILLE — Eight months after a grassroots community effort created a charter for a unified City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County government supporters say it’s time for a vote.

The Unified Government Charter Writing Committee has formerly requested that both city and county governments forward an approved request for a referendum to the state legislature thereby allowing the citizens of Baldwin County to vote for or against unification.

At the first regular meeting of 2014, the Rev. David Luke, with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber Board of Directors, urged Baldwin County Commissioners to move the revised unification charter to the ballot.

“Along with all the other things we have going on in our city there has been a lot of misinformation out there,” Luke said.

Both city and county officials have met with the charter writing committee over the last month and will again this week, according to Luke.

“We will further revise the document that many of you have seen on the website. From that information, we will bring together a document that we will ask for your vote on allowing the people of Milledgeville to vote on this document,” he said Tuesday. “We are praying you will read the document, bring your questions and give your input so we can come to some conclusion to do this as an effective part of our city’s forward progress.”

Citizens voiced their opinion at the county podium as well.

Hudman Evans has several concerns with the unification charter.

“Right now, you and the City Council have the power to run Milledgeville. The thing that you do when you get this charter is the state giveth, once you approve it, and then the state can taketh away if a majority of your legislators decide they want to change it,” Evans said.

Quentin T. Howell, Baldwin County Democratic Party Chair, said Baldwin County is at a “crossroads.”

“We have a group of citizens from a private entity that’s coming and writing up a particular charter for us and saying ‘hey, vote on this.’” Howell said. “Our elected officials in the city and county feel like they have to do this. I have an issue with that. Take a second to step back and ask the question why?”

Harry Keim said this issue is extremely important, and the commissioners should provide charter input to make the best document possible.

“I don’t understand why we can’t allow the voters to vote on this,” Keim said. “They are intelligent people. We need to let the voters decide how this county and city should be run.”

If both government bodies don’t honor the request, the charter committee will ask local legislatures to make the referendum request without local elected official support.

The foundation charter for a Milledgeville-Baldwin County, Georgia Unified Government was completed by a diverse eight-member Unified Government Charter Writing Committee and released May 1.

When the charter writing process began, the group solicited city and county government expertise though they received little from elected officials. City and county elected officials along with other community groups have provided input sending the charter through four complete edits.

Highlights of the charter’s current form include:

• Six-member governing board with the chair (functioning as Mayor) elected at-large and the others from the current county electoral districts. Members serve staggered four-year terms;

• Under proposed charter, the chair of new government appoints a county manager, commission clerk, county attorney, auditor and fire chief confirmed by majority commission vote;

• Charter calls for continuation of the manager plan of government;

• The elected sheriff of Baldwin County will serve as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer;

• County will divide into a general service and urban service tax districts. The general represents the entire county area, while the urban includes corporate city limits. Special service districts may be established if needed;

• New franchise fees will be used to defray expenses incurred as a result of unification. After two years, revenue from those fees will be used to lower urban district taxes, according to the charter summary;

• No changes to the county school administrative unit of board of education;

• The charter will protect jobs, pensions, seniority, benefits and tenure of “all” city and county employees as potential savings will occur from attrition;

The proposed charter calls for a 10-citizen transition team including two current commissioners, two municipal elected officials and six community members (three appointed by the current City Council and three by the current County Commissioners). This group would assist the new government with consolidation of services.

Visit www.mbcunification.com to download the revised charter and executive summary.

• Hall re-elected as County Chairman

Commissioner Sammy Hall, District 3, will serve as the county board chairman for 2014. Hall retains the position from the previous year.

The chairman thanked the board for the opportunity to lead once again.

“I’ve worked hard for the last year. I hope I’ve done a good job,” Hall said.

Hall hopes the board works as a cohesive unit this year.

“We all want to improve the county but sometimes we have the appearance we aren’t all on the same page,” Hall said.

Emily Davis, District 1, was chosen as the vice chair.

• County warns of winter water usage

County Manager Ralph McMullen said the community is having frozen pipe issues with the recent arctic blast.

“Apparently, a lot of people are leaving their water running. We are draining two systems of a lot of water,” he said. “If you have busted pipes, fix them don’t just let them run.”  

McMullen said one report of busted pipe created a “frozen yard” at one county residence. The manager said this case was “intentional” and “not good” to waste a precious resource.

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