Local Politics

Government merger talks heat up again in Durham

Posted January 23, 2009 4:25 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Local governments facing tight budgets are trying to cut back every way possible. Some officials in Durham say merging the city and county governments would save money and streamline operations.

"I think it's been about 10 years since we discussed it before, and I think it's a good time to revisit it," said Ellen Reckhow, vice chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.

City and county governments have combined in Louisville, Ky., Nashville, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., among other places, and some local officials said a common city-county government could work in Durham as well.

"Looking at it holistically and working together even more than we do now, it might be very positive for our community," Reckhow said.

About 85 percent of Durham County's population already lives within the city limits, she said.

"Will it save money? Will our two governments run better as a result?" Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard said, raising two common concerns.

"It seems like every time we hit an economic crisis or there's another department we think might be able to merge, somebody will raise it as an issue," Woodard said.

The city and county currently operate a joint planning department.

Merger proposals have been floated several times over at least half a century. A 2000 study found that most city and county departments could realistically merge aside from law enforcement because the sheriff is elected and the police chief is appointed.

County and city officials plan to discuss the idea again at a March meeting. Any combination would require the approval of state lawmakers, as well as the City Council and the Board of Commissioners.