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Consolidation floated
County upset over city annexations
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A recent flurry of requests from Dawson County residents wanting to annex their property into Dawsonville has prompted officials to explore the possibility of a unified government.

In a 4-0 vote, the Dawson County commission on Thursday directed County Attorney Joey Homans to seek assistance from the local state legislative delegation on the annexation issue and to begin the consolidation process.

Commissioner Gary Pichon made the motion with a second by Jimmy Hamby.

"We've got two governments and we've got one that taxes its people not one dime, and they take two helpings out of [local option sales tax] and two helpings out of [special purpose local option sales tax]," he said.

Pichon also referred to a map that shows the reach of the county's lone municipality extending through annexations into rural areas.

"So I'm making a motion to cover two points: to do something about the constant annexations and to limit that; and secondly that we ask the legislative representatives to begin to help us begin the process of trying to figure out how to consolidate these governments so we can save up to $2 million a year," he said.

Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan said he has no interest in a combined government.

"I would assume my council would vote against it. I certainly would be against it," he said, adding that there have been no talks on the issue.

District 9 State Rep. Kevin Tanner also weighed in on the county's vote.

"If the county and city have an intent in pursuing a consolidated government, I would encourage them to work together to solicit input from the community to ensure this is something the community would support," he said.

"In doing so, if they determine that it is and they bring a proposal forward that both the county and city have agreed to, then I am confident the local legislation would be happy to work with them."

County Commissioner James Swafford, whose district includes the city, supports the change.

"In the best interest of all the citizens of Dawson County, rather than for them to have to comply with two different governments ... I'd say that instead of spending our resources rejecting all these that we go to somebody that can do something about it ... state legislators," he said. "Not that I disagree with people wanting to come into the city, let's either be county or city and make it a unified government.

"I think this board is ready to go with a unified government, but it takes the city to come along. So if they want all the county to be annexed into the city, then we need to have a unified government from that."

Dawsonville Councilman Chris Gaines said none of the commissioners had approached him about the possibility of consolidation. While there could be some upside to a having one governing body, Gaines suspects the negatives would outweigh the positives.

"I think each situation is unique," he said. "We can't really base our decision on what Athens-Clarke County did or another entity. I've been in big corporations and I've been in small businesses. Small business can react quicker to markets and have less layers of bureaucracy and get things done.

"And I think I appreciate that with the city being smaller, we can react to market conditions and we can do these somewhat faster than the larger entity. That also makes us more efficient."

He also said he sees the level of competition between county and city governments as healthy.

"You can look at some things that have happened that might not have ever happened and have been positives ... [Atlanta] Motorsports Park and the distillery," Gaines said. "That's kind of a branding that we are known for and that probably wouldn't have, I can't say for sure, but probably wouldn't have happened if we were unified government."

According to Pichon, consolidation could save taxpayers as much as $2 million per year that currently goes toward municipal projects.

Gaines said the concept is debatable.

"I don't know if the cost savings would be there that some people anticipate," he said. "I think that it's good that as a city we fight for dollars to spend downtown, because we benefit a large portion. Ten percent of our population, lives in the city limits," he said. "So we fight for that money, and I think we use it very wisely and efficiently."