Durham Considers City-County Merger
Posted November 25, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
DURHAM — In North Carolina, most people pay either city or county taxes. Public services, like law enforcement, fire and emergency services, and trash collection, are handled by cities and counties separately. But Durham officials are thinking about merging the two together.
City and county leaders are drafting a plan they hope will appeal to all of Durham's diverse political interests. The question is: will it satisfy any of them?
This is not the first time a merger plan has been brought to the table. "It's been talked about here in Durham dating back to the '60s, and I think even the '50s. I think this is the third attempt for merger here in Durham," says merger committee member Jarvis Martin.
The time may finally be right, though, to combine city and county governments in Durham. Many residents say a merger makes sense.
"Being the only city in the area, I think it would be economically sound," says resident Harold Green.
Durham resident Al Singer agrees. "I think it's a real good idea," he says. "Any time you can streamline government, it makes sense to me. I don't see any reason for the division any more."
In theory, a merged government would save tax dollars by operating more efficiently. But the city and county already split most services. Leaders who have studied the merger say it could actually cost more upfront.
"In the long run, there could be cost savings in merging governments. Initially it will cost taxpayers more because there will be greater expenses in merging city and county government," says city council member Floyd McKissick.
The plan leaders will recommend next month would have Durham adopt a nine-member city-county board, including a non-partisan mayor, four partisan members, and four at-large, non-partisan members, each serving three-year terms.
"I think the key thing is developing an equitable merger which is inclusive of this entire community so that all interests in this community will feel represented," McKissick says.
A steering committee will consider the merger recommendation in December. If they decide to pursue a merger, they will do a detailed financial analysis.
That will give city and county residents a better idea of what a merger might cost them before they vote on it next year.