Town board deliberates, drops metro

Friday, November 18, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL - Merging Marshall County with municipalities, or consolidation of duplicated services, were considered at this month's meeting of the town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen and then set aside.

"I'm just glad somebody is interested enough to want to study it," Alderman Marion Joyce said. "It might save money for Chapel Hill, depending on whether you have a differentiated tax rate," a system that recognizes some parts of a metropolitan area have a different level of government service.

Town Administrator Mike Hatten invited County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and Commissioner Don Ledford to the town's meeting held Monday. It was a response to county commissioners' vote delegating Liggett and Ledford to gather opinions from municipal panels to determine whether there's interest in changing the form of government.

Joyce was "perplexed" why Liggett and Ledford didn't attend the board meeting. Ledford asked Commission Chairman Mike Waggoner to form a study committee. Instead, Waggoner obtained a resolution from the commission to have Liggett and Ledford canvas the municipalities. Neither attended Lewisburg's meeting six days before the Chapel Hill meeting.

"It was just to do a preliminary study," Joyce said.

If no savings could be found, she said, then the effort would be abandoned.

"But there are accusations that there's resistance," Joyce said, commenting on her understanding of discussions since Ledford first sought a study committee.

That was in September.

Mayor Carl Cooper felt "honored" that Liggett and Ledford went to the countywide Joint Economic and Community Development Board, a state-mandated panel originally conceived to deal with concerns and annexation issues.

The JECDB includes all five mayors in the county and other leaders. The panel met Nov. 8 when Cooper pointed out that the idea of consolidating services or merging governments had "blossomed up" and said, "We can't ignore it."

During that meeting last week, Ledford repeated what he hears from his constituents. It's "a concern for costs and maintaining services," so he tried to get county leaders to examine the idea to see if it would save taxpayers money.

At the town meeting Monday, Joyce noted Ledford's advocacy for a study.

"For someone to be so positive and then not show up," she said, "I'm perplexed."

Alderman Buck Bryant replied with question: "Are you surprised" that the two county leaders didn't attend the town meeting and Joyce said, "Yes."

Hatten noted that the commissioners' vote was "more or less a directive," and the town administrator wondered out loud about whether Ledford and Liggett had followed the directive.

Hatten also had a question about the cost of a study, relative to the town's request for a cooperative venture for a branch library in Chapel Hill. That matter has been set aside.

"Why was someone so quick to want to spend $25,000 for a study, but wouldn't spend $15,000 for a library?" Hatten asked.

The $25,000 cost of a study emerged during the JECDB meeting when former County Mayor Terry Wallace spoke about the consolidation effort in Maury County where a metro charter is the subject of a March 6 referendum to merge Columbia and Maury County.