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Fayetteville, Cumberland Dance Around Merger Possibility

Consultants say there could be benefits in service delivery, but savings would take a while to appear.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Fayetteville and Cumberland County are considering something that could be a first in North Carolina – merged local and county government – but it's not at all clear it will happen.

Tuesday night, officials received a report from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. That study, which cost $25,000, found that consolidating city and county governments would result in better delivery of services, better long-range planning and better emergency management.

The consultants noted that there also would be no immediate cost-savings, however, and there would be a challenge in overcoming the cultural differences between the different governments.

Bill Crisp, who opposed Fayetteville’s “Big Bang” annex and who is running for City Council, is of two minds about the idea, and is uncomfortable with that.

"I'm standing in the middle of the road. I don't like being in the middle of the road. I like being on something or against it," Crisp said.

Crisp lives along a road where sets out his garbage bin for the City of Fayetteville to take to a landfill run by Cumberland County, and it sounds reasonable enough to ask why not have one entity haul away the garbage, sweep the streets, and lock up the lawbreakers.

"If we consolidate, we certainly can't keep two managers. And this is a trickle-down effect," Crisp said.
Still, he doubts there is enough public support for merger.

“There’s a significant mistrust, if you will, of government officials based on issues and things that have happened in the past” — namely the massive 2005 annexation that brought 43,000 people inside city boundaries — Crisp said.

Others see it as just common sense, however.

"There's just really no reason not to do it in our community," County Commissioner Breeden Blackwell said.

"When you talk to people in consolidated government, they love the one-stop shopping. they love making one phone call. they love dealing with one government body," Blackwell said.

"I mean, we spend like a million dollars a piece on planning. Does that make sense?" Blackwell asked.

Curtis Worthy, a Fayetteville City Council member, is dubious.

"Well, it would be nice if all the family in one community could live in one great big house, but that's not realistic. We all have different styles," Worthy said.

Local elected officials will send comments from the public on the Carl Vinson Institute, then a final report will be issued. That phase of the consulting study is expected to cost $30,000, Blackwell says.

According to the North Carolina Institute of Government, there have been six unsuccessful attempts at city-county mergers in the past 35 years: once each in Charlotte, Durham and Asheville and three times in Wilmington.

The main sticking points in most communities are the structure of the unified governing board and what to do about law enforcement.



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