Heed voters on consolidation
Charleston County voters overwhelmingly support advancing cost-saving ideas for consolidating government functions among various jurisdictions. They said just that in backing a 2010 countywide referendum that asked: “Should Charleston County Council appoint a consolidated government charter commission for the purpose of preparing a proposed charter to establish countywide consolidation of local government function or functions?”
That referendum passed with 61 percent of voters in favor. The overwhelming support of the electorate was effectively a mandate to get the consolidation ball rolling.
Unfortunately, there has been little apparent progress on expanding consolidation. But county officials say that discussions will start again after the budget is finalized.
Maybe consolidation has to be approached gingerly because of turf issues, but the county risks losing momentum with an extended timetable. There already are sound arguments to make in support of functional consolidation.
For example, there’s the consolidated 911 service that has cut response time for emergencies countywide.
Other examples include the solid waste landfill and the county jail. Appropriately, the jail has been named for Sheriff Al Cannon, who believes that it is just the first step in the merger of law enforcement agencies countywide.
“Down the road, I see the necessary consolidation of police services in the county. It’s no less critical, and no less doable than the consolidation of Emergency Medical Services, and Emergency Communications,” Sheriff Cannon said in a recent op-ed column by Ron Brinson.
Indeed, Mr. Cannon has been an advocate for consolidated police services since becoming sheriff 25 years ago. And as the county’s chief law enforcement officer, Mr. Cannon sees the sheriff taking the lead role in a merged operation.
That’s still an ambitious goal considering the jurisdictional issues that would have to be resolved. But it’s worth the consolidation commission’s attention.
So are other potential areas for cost savings and improved services.
Full consolidation was rejected by Charleston County voters in 1974, but the issue was revisited in 1990 in a report that cited selected areas worth exploring. Those included purchasing, personnel, public works and fire training. Too bad nothing came of those suggestions.
County Councilman Vic Rawl, who proposed the 2010 referendum, hopes that the charter commission will make solid recommendations that eventually can be put to the voters. Mr. Rawl recognizes that turf battles will arise in any consolidation debate. Recommendations for merger will have to be fact-based to ensure the necessary public support, he says.
Fortunately for proponents of consolidation, the people of Charleston County already have spoken strongly in support of the idea.
At this point, it should be a matter of determining where consolidation is feasible and working out the details to make it happen.
Let’s pick up the pace.