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Durham Leaders Debate Pros, Cons Of Merged Government

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DURHAM — Durham city and county leaders want to merge their governments if the price is right. The two have hired a consulting firm to analyze the cost of becoming one government.

Conventional wisdom says a merged government would save tax dollars by eliminating duplication.

A merger would save money in the long run. However, in the short term, it would cost more - so much more that Durham residents might have to pay for it through a tax increase.

"I think it's extremely likely that you'll see higher property taxes over the first five years of the merger," said Floyd McKissick, a member of the Durham City Council.

Durham residents may have to foot the bill for the convenience of having one government. The merger would combine the city and county governments without laying off employees.

"You would eliminate employees over time through attrition, but most importantly, if there are two employees with different pay scales, you're going to go with the higher pay scale," McKissick said.

It would likely mean salary increases for county employees who earn less than their city counterparts.

Supporters agree a merger would cost more upfront, but they point to the merger ofDurham's city and county schoolsas proof that there would be long-term cost savings.

"When they merged the city and county school systems, it was a similar situation," said David Smith, a supporter of the merger. "They brought everyone up to the higher level, and they didn't fire anybody. They just let attrition take care of the extra people."

Merger supporters do not foresee a tax increase. They point to Durham's tax collection, planning and inspection departments, which have already merged.

"There have already been three merged departments between city and county, and everyone has saved money and been more efficient," Smith said.

The city and county voted Monday to set up a charter commission and conduct a cost analysis. Officials would like to get a referendum on the November ballot, when the presidential election will draw a high voter turnout.


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