Barrow County plans to gauge voter interest next year in studying the fiscal impact of government consolidation with the City of Winder and potentially other smaller municipalities located exclusively within the county.

At its meeting Tuesday, the county board of commissioners approved a resolution asking the Georgia General Assembly to approve legislation placing a countywide non-binding referendum on the May 22 general election primary ballot which, if approved, would authorize the county to spend no more than $100,000 to conduct a fiscal impact study “to determine the cost savings which could be realized through a municipal consolidation of Winder and Barrow County governments, and the governments wholly located within Barrow County.”

The vote was 6-1 with commissioner Billy Parks of District 5 opposed.

While Winder would be the primary focus of consolidation under the study, the possibility of consolidation with Statham, Bethlehem and Carl could also be on the table.

Auburn and Braselton would not be included in the study because they are multi-jurisdictional.

Auburn is split between Barrow and Gwinnett counties, while Braselton is split between those two plus Jackson and Hall counties.

While voter approval of the referendum in May would OK the study, there would be no forced consolidation. In other words, any future consolidation would likely have to be agreed upon between the county and the city and town councils of Winder, Statham, Bethlehem and Carl.

County manager Mike Renshaw, in introducing the resolution Tuesday, noted there have been informal discussions over the years among officials about whether consolidation of services in Winder and the county would lower the costs of local government and thus the tax burden on citizens.

He cited a 2013 funding equity study commissioned by the Barrow Municipal Association, using Fiscal Year 2012 financial data, that estimated the cost of duplicative services ranged from an estimated $5 million to $7.2 million.

The renewed consolidation discussions come in the middle of a dispute between the county and Winder over the city’s plans to provide its own emergency medical services within the city limits.

Renshaw said after Tuesday’s meeting that the EMS dispute and the county’s interest in studying consolidation were not related but both items come at a time when city and county officials have accused each other of being unwilling to sit down and hammer out a new or updated SDS agreement, which is due next year.

Earlier Tuesday, Winder City Council, following a roughly 45-minute closed session, unanimously approved a resolution setting out its position on each service area and calling on the county to approve it. The specific changes from the current agreement were not available to the public as of press time because the documents had not been “signed, sealed and delivered” to the county, Mayor David Maynard said.

See more in the Dec. 13 edition of the Barrow News-Journal.

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