Cover Story: City-County Consolidation Study

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The talk in city and county government is all about consolidation.  City leaders voted to study the possibility of merging Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte City Council got the ball rolling Monday night, approving in a close vote, 6-to-5, to commission an independent group to study the pros and cons of consolidating city and county government.

If the Mecklenburg county commission also signs off a Charter Study Commission would be formed.

Consisting of 25 non-paid members (13 from the county, 12 from the city) it'll be their job to review the work done in 1995-96 (the last time consolidation was tackled), see what's changed, get public input, perhaps hire a consultant, and report out their findings by the end of July.

"I will say that the initial reaction right now is not positive."

Mayors of the towns outside Charlotte, like Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain, want to see how a merger would impact them.

They want to have a seat at the table when it's being studied.

"At this point I think there are some services that we can share, but for the total city/county consolidation, I'm not quite there," said Swain.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx made consolidation one of his priorities for his second term when he was elected last month with the ultimate goal being political consolidation.

You wouldn't have for example a city council and a county commission.  But one governing body.  And you wouldn't have two sets of government bureaucracy housed in the uptown Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center which could save millions of dollars.

But with the two governments' combined budgets of $3 billion, skeptics say the savings won't be as much as you might think.

Foxx says still it's worth pursuing belt-tightening.

"That's what families across the city are doing and that's what city government has to do," he said.

In the U.S. there are only about 40 cases where city and county governments have merged.  The last one to do it was Louisville in 2003 when it merged with Jefferson county and created Metro Louisville.

Louisville's reasons for consolidating were to trigger economic development.  It never fully materialized.

Charlotte city councilman James Mitchell, the current president of the National League of Cities, believes it's worth exploring here.

"Let's study it. Let's look at the pros and cons. Let's make a rational decision based on new data," he said.

Charlotte and Mecklenburg county attempts to consolidate date back to 1927.  The most recent 15 years.

The city has said yes to a study.  If the county goes along work will begin and they'll have six months to come up with a recommendation.

The Charter Study Commission will be paid for by a $150,000 grant from the Catalyst Fund, which is managed by the Foundation for the Carolinas.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved.