05/01/07 — City, county discuss cooperation

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City, county discuss cooperation

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 1, 2007 1:54 PM

When Wayne County Manager Lee Smith and several commissioners met last week with Goldsboro Mayor Al King, City Manager Joe Huffman and representatives from the city council, the idea was to share information and find ways for the two entities to work together.

It was the first meeting of the Wayne and Goldsboro Governmental Committees in almost 20 months and the primary topic of discussion was a request made by the city for the county to help pay for the construction of the Paramount and the Community Building.

And while county officials said they would consider that request along with their other funding proposals, it did lead to a discussion of other ways in which the county and city are working together and how that relationship might be enhanced in the future.

"I think there's a lot of things we already work together on. We agree and disagree, but we can sit at the table and discuss it and we can usually come to some sort of compromise," Smith said. "We get along pretty well. I wish all entities would have the relationship we've got."

Both are partners in the Goldsboro-Wayne Municipal Airport and GATEWAY Transit, and both are funders of the Wayne County Public Library system, the Wayne County Museum and the Arts Council of Wayne County.

Both also contribute to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund projects around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to not only protect the Neuse River from development, but also the base.

"Some things we take the lead on and some things they take the lead on," Huffman said.

And, he continued, the city's and the county's contributions often are divided depending on who's taking the lead on a particular project.

For example, the county contributes more to the library system than the city, but on travel and tourism efforts and in the clean water program, the city often leads the way. The city also provides many of the parks and recreation programs county residents enjoy -- at no extra charge.

In addition, much of the county's contribution to the museum and the arts council is in-kind -- often in the form of maintenance work.

GATEWAY is an area that is split fairly evenly, with a city transit system, a county transit system and a joint board of directors that tilts in favor of the city and county in alternating years.

"It's really been a matter of how much is the city willing to invest and how much is the county willing to invest," Huffman said. "It's not all one way. We're working together."

Another area that has benefited from the joint efforts is the emergency management system, which the county oversees. That change was mandated in large part by state statutes placing emergency services under the county's authority.

Wayne took the telecommunication and emergency services in 2001-02 and since then has saved Goldsboro approximately $2.4 million. The buildings, however, are owned by the city.

On the other hand, the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. is a city department, but it's housed in a county building.

"We've just sort of evolved this way," Huffman explained.

And now, he and Smith agreed, it's time to examine some of those relationships.

"As we move from here, I think we want to look at some of these things and maybe re-evaluate and formalize some of these things," Huffman said. "There a lot of things that need to be thought about."

At last week's committee meeting, ideas were floated about possibly combining some city and county services, such as their information and technology departments and some of their human resource efforts. Even planning departments and law enforcement agencies were mentioned in the discussion.

"I think anything's possible. We need to look at it all," King said. "And it may be that we can't do any of this, but let's take a look at it."

Such efforts have been attempted elsewhere with varying degrees of success and for Smith and Huffman, examining those earlier trials is the next step.

"I would like for Joe and I to take a look at some place that have done this," Smith said. "There have been a couple of successes and there have been a couple of failures."

Among the easiest areas to integrate, he continued, might be IT. Wayne and Goldsboro, along with the other municipalities and the school system, also are already looking at joint purchasing in order to help hold costs down.

Smith explained that the key will be to start with those areas that are the best candidates for streamlined efficiency and seamless integration -- often those areas people don't see every day.

But he also said that it's important for the county and city to first determine whether integration is worth it. Often, as Commissioner Jack Best noted, the cost-savings is not in personnel or equipment, particularly if service levels are not expected to change, but rather in efficiency and infrastructure.

If it doesn't affect service, create efficiency or save money, it doesn't need to be done," Smith said. "But we're going to look at what's feasible." And, Huffman added, they're going to take their time.

"We have to make sure we get the information we need. If we do something, I'd rather do it once and get it right," he said. "Whatever we do, we've got to make sure it's fair for everybody."