Chamber Chat (1/20/13)

Don’t reverse course
Jan. 21, 2013 @ 01:54 PM

In 1985, the Sanford Chamber initiated a study with the broad goal of examining the feasibility of consolidating local governments in Broadway, Sanford and Lee County. The committee was chaired by Taylor Uzzell. Committee members included Al Ankrom, Orton Cameron, Bob Clarke, Ray Hunter, Marvin Joyner, Dick Palmer, Bob Stevens and Hal Siler. Committee leaders quickly came to the conclusion that job one was gauging the sentiment of the entire community.

During the next nine months or so, this committee surveyed business owners and managers, held discussions with political and civic leadership, assembled facts and figures. Over 650 responses were gathered from all sections of Lee County. An open forum was held to seek input from the public. The central issues were efficiency, economics and impact (impact from a political standpoint as well as the effect on service to citizens and businesses).

Prior to this committee’s effort, even back as far as late 1960s, our local governments cooperated to deliver services. Recreation efforts were merged. Solid waste disposal was shared. City and county schools were merged in the early 1970s. Water supply and lines were shared. With the Chamber initiative in 1986, the public had the opportunity to comment on these previous efforts and suggest future combinations of service.

No clear majority opinion emerged; however, what became clear was that most respondents (87%) liked the quality and convenience of combined services and favored further consolidation. The committee report recommended a next step: further study of specific services and areas of cooperation. Eighteen months later, in 1989, the Chamber issued the report of the Phase II Metro Government Study Committee.

This Phase II report recommended against political consolidation and in favor of functional consolidation of services like tax assessment, administration and collection; planning, zoning, permitting and inspections; emergency management including some fire and rescue functions and, of course, water and wastewater. The public appreciated the efficiencies in combining these services. Over the years since 1989, our local governments found more ways to cooperate, including some law enforcement functions.

Fast forward to 2013. Cooperation between our local governments seems to have reached an impasse over sales tax distribution, endangering these 30+ year-old interlocal agreements. The Board of Commissioners has proposed terminating nearly all their agreements with the City and the Town.

This could mean reversing 30 years of progress. For example, paying property taxes may mean traveling to two or three different locations. Other services, now combined, might be separated. The result could be a less competitive environment for future growth and business development. Reversing the “one-stop shopping” model we’ve worked toward would add extra hurdles for citizens.

The Chamber calls on all our elected officials to hammer out new agreements, making adjustments where necessary to provide the best possible service to citizens. Keep us competitive with our peers. We have one of the best reputations in the state as a business friendly community. Support this great reputation. Don’t reverse course.

Bob Joyce is president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce.