County, towns don’t talk but they should

March 14, 2014 

The short answer to the question was no. County Commissioners and town leaders don’t spend a lot of time talking to one another, especially about how they could merge services to improve quality and affordability.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. This newspaper has long maintained that taxpayers could get better services for less money if the county and its towns chose to work together rather than stand alone.

So why don’t the county and it’s 11 towns at least talk about merging services?

One reason is power. People with the power to spend money – town managers and department heads, for example – are reluctant to relinquish that power. No doubt, their influence would wane if rank-and-file employees did not have to rely on them for money.

Another reason is pride. Our friends in Selma, for example, have long taken great pride in being largely independent when it comes to such services as fire protection and water. The Selma Fire Department bought a ladder truck even though next-door neighbor Smithfield had a brand new one. And Selma maintains wells even though the county offers a reliable water supply from its plant in nearby Wilson’s Mills.

A third reason is profit. Johnston County, for example, could have a countywide water and sewer system. One immediate benefit is that with one water rate and one sewer rate countywide, every community would be on equal water and sewer footing when it came to recruiting industry. Instead, towns here prefer to operate their own water and sewer departments because they can charge a little more and use the profit to subsidize their property-tax rates, a practice that, by the way, benefits the wealthy at the expense of their poor. That’s because everyone drinks water and flushes toilets, but not everyone has a $400,000 house.

The problem is that proud people in pursuit of power and profit have the wrong priorities. Which is to say that Johnston County would be a better place to live if our leaders based every decision on what was best for taxpayers.

Our suspicion is that County Commissioners and leaders of Johnston’s smaller towns would be more receptive to merged services than leaders of the county’s larger towns. But town leaders aren’t on the ballot this year, so we can only hope that candidates for county commissioner will at least talk about talking with their town counterparts.

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