A preliminary findings report on pathways to consolidation has been delivered to Evans County governing bodies for review.
Evans County, Bellville, Claxton, Daisy, and Hagan all engaged the Carl Vinson Institute (CVI) in May to study the potential benefits and obstacles for consolidation. The Institute, out of the University of Georgia, has been charged with examining full consolidation, which would mean all services are combined through one government entity, or functional consolidation, which is a shared service agreement for things like police, fire, or public safety as a whole.
To date, the Institute has interviewed leaders and staff in the county and the cities and has examined financial, political, and operational positions of each entity. The preliminary report released last week is for local officials to review to ensure the appropriate issues are receiving attention in the study.
For analytical purposes, the Institute evaluates Evans County on a population of 10,596, with 3,623 living in incorporated cities (34.2%) and 6,973 in unincorporated county areas. Essentially, one-third of the population of Evans County is within a city limit and has been for at least the past three decades. Additionally, the population of Evans County is slightly older than the rest of the state.
The first, and perhaps most compelling, finding was that interviews determined full consolidation ‘is not desirable at this time.’ Because of this fact, CVI will not study any further the idea that municipalities will fully consolidate with the county and form a new government completely.
A few other findings:
- Agriculture, construction, and manufacturing comprise the largest employment sector – almost half of all jobs in the county
- 35% is comprised of retail, education and healthcare
- 15% of the population is employed through the government
- The unemployment rate in Evans County is 4.4%, slightly lower than the state at 4.9% (as of May 2017)
- Median household income is $37,865
The report also lists a series of obstacles for functional consolidation for fire and law enforcement.
CVI says consolidation could provide an ‘improved ISO rating, better utilization of equipment, and a possible decrease in response times.’ A move like this could prove contentious given the county’s split from the Claxton Fire Department, which previously provided contracted services to the county, Bellville, and Daisy in 2014. Now, Claxton only provides fire services for Bellville.
|Evans County Fire Expenditures|
|*Includes start-up costs for county||2014||$317,443||$45.52|
|Hagan Fire Expenditures|
|Daisy Fire Expenditures|
Claxton Fire Expenditures
The study did say that is not possible to ‘say with completely certainty’ that the de-consolidation was the cause of the increase in fire service expenditures, but that it is ‘suggestive.’
|FIRE SERVICE CALLS||2013||2014||2015||2016|
|Evans Co. Whole||42||93||128||203|
|City of Claxton||5/9||4/4X|
Shared services, equipment, and stations would also prevent criss-crossing jurisdiction to cover areas like Bellville. While Claxton Fire and Evans County Fire could operate separately still but under an overarching department, CVI says it would be cumbersome. The benefits, though, would be shared administrative services, training, and community education services which would help the ISO rating across the entire county. CVI found that the current staffing situation in Claxton and Evans County are duplicative, calling it ‘unnecessary,’ and a single fire chief could provide the same services for both entities.
Currently, the county and cities have a ‘mutual aid’ agreement for assisting with fire calls, but CVI says that does not help ISO ratings because it is upon request. Automatic aid through a partnership could improve the ISO rating. CVI also suggested mimicking Rome Floyd Fire Department and combining names instead of assuming one.
As far as law enforcement goes, CVI says expanding police services to all cities or creating a county-wide Sheriff’s office program would be the two options, but both would require all law enforcement positions to see higher salaries. As a whole, interviews showed satisfaction with law enforcement services across the county. Even still, all three entities said higher levels of service could be provided with more staff.
- Sheriff, 4 dispatchers, 4 jailers, 1 detective, 7 deputies
- Budget $600,000
- Claxton – 8 officers (including the Chief), 4 dispatchers, 1 secretary
- Budget – $1 million
- Hagan – 1 cheif, 1 full-time Lieutenant, 2 part-time officers, and city clerk/asst city clerks assist with court services
- Budget $200,000
- No 24-hour coverage*
Consolidating the three would provide more patrol, reduce duplication, address more calls, make more arrests, perform mental health follow-ups, and provide consistent training.
Consolidating only Claxton and Hagan, and perhaps Daisy and Bellville in the future, would allow for 24-hour coverage for Hagan and would provide more staff.
The remaining option would be to create a public safety department and operate police and fire services under that department with a Public Safety Director. This is done in Bainbridge as well as Clayton County.
Currently, Evans County partners with the cities for recreational services and economic development and the County works with Hagan for fire services. The county required, by state mandate, to have an EMA Director, a service that was previously partially funded by the City of Claxton, however, the city has contemplated ceasing providing funds for that service on the premise that it is the county’s responsibility.
Additionally, the Carl Vinson Institute reports that the Evans County Road Department and the Claxton Public Works Department assist each other, successfully, with road maintenance. Daisy, Hagan, and Bellville frequently ask for assistance with paving projects and maintenance.
Essentially, CVI is providing pathways to consolidate police, fire, public safety, and potentially water & sewer. Nothing further has been examined because of an unwillingness to fully merge. The services provided were based on the potential to provide higher levels of service, but CVI says all is contingent upon the support of elected officials, senior management, and departmental staff to work together.
CVI will continue to examine the services while working with each entity on what implementation could look like.
Some previous articles on consolidation in Evans County: