Letter: For efficiency’s sake, combine city and county governments

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Are you in a place where you question the effectiveness and efficiency of our local government? Do you wonder if there are ways that the system can work more successfully? Where is the best focus of local governments’ energy? These are certainly questions that I have been pondering and encourage you too as well, especially if you care about important issues like affordable housing, public transportation, the rise of taxes and aging infrastructure, to name just a few of the issues that government oversees and influences.

In our case, in Asheville and Buncombe County, all of our Council members serve in part-time positions and are being paid small salaries. Yet all these leaders are overseeing large staff departments [via the city manager] and must understand very complex issues. Because of their limited amount of time and our current organizational structure, it is imperative that Council members spend time and energy on issues that will have lasting impact on the changes they really want to see.

The No. 1 focus ought to be on how to make our local government more efficient and effective. Instead, Council members often get caught in the weeds of issues that their own organizational structure is simultaneously influencing. Not only is their time focused on the details of these ever-so-important issues, but also they are directing our staff to jump in the trenches with them. The homestay rental issue is just one of many examples.

When are we going to wake up and fully realize that change must happen from within so that we can be more functional and sustainable? If Council and staff are really concerned about the numerous issues that we face, the strategy which will have the most impact over the long term is to figure out how to better focus our energy on changes from within. Why do we have two governments overseeing the same 45-mile jurisdiction? How much money do we spend on higher management positions and other repeat staff positions because of this overlap? How much time and energy are lost each year in repeat meetings, disagreements, similar committees to oversee, etc., all because Asheville and Buncombe County governments are not one entity? How are we managing staff to ensure their energy stays focused while at work? How can we better instill a sense of pride and commitment to service among staff?

These questions all relate to overhead costs, organizational structure, efficiency and motivational drivers, which I am requesting all our elected officials and government staff to ponder first and foremost. A commitment to change from within will free up more money for issues that are important, while at the same time will help ensure taxes do not keep increasing. Combining Asheville and Buncombe County into one entity is the place to start.

Of course, many naysayers will say that cannot be done with excuses of legislation laws, annexation laws and the nonsupport of people who live in the county who do not want to see their taxes raised. Ironically, most of the staff who work for Asheville city and Buncombe County governments live in the county. Let’s not trick ourselves to think we cannot create new ways of being that will be more effective. We can make bold changes like combining our governments. We can choose to put our prime focus on making our government more effective and efficient. Only then will we really be able to affect issues like the aging infrastructure, public transit, affordable housing, sustainability and the vicious cycle of tax escalation.

— Ryan Pickens


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7 thoughts on “Letter: For efficiency’s sake, combine city and county governments

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Such efficiency would be fantastic but alas progressives don’t like that kind of change, therefore your thoughts would be deemed heresy.

    • Dopamina

      Your reply doesn’t make sense, could you elaborate instead of just virtue signaling with vague generalities?

  2. Mike R.

    If any city/county should merge governments it is Charlotte/Mecklenburg, from whence I came. The City has all but absorbed the County through annexation; however, there are a number of thorny issues and special interests that block this from happening. First, there happen to be a handful of towns within the county (Matthews, Huntersville, Cornelius, etc.). These are legal entities that are essentially like Charlotte; albeit much smaller. They want to retain their “identity”, whatever that may be. The county areas while small now, aren’t taxed to the same level as Charlotte, so there is little interest on their part to merge. Interestingly, the police force is Charlotte/Mecklenburg (CMPD) as it made sense to police into what remains of the county. Other functions also have been “countyfied” versus City and County separate. Still, they have totally separate governments with elected officials, high paid mangers, the whole nine yards.

    Broad brush, like Asheville/Buncombe, the county handles all the welfare (oops not politically correct) stuff; has a sheriff system primarily to man the jails and sit in court all day ( you know coffee and donuts and 75lbs overweight). Schools in Charlotte are county based unlike Asheville. If there was one, just one, merger of function that would make sense in Asheville/Buncombe, it would the schools. But of course, the wealthier elite of Asheville don’t want there little ‘buffy’ or “tommy’ to have to school with the “rednecks’ out in the county. Other than schools and welfare, most functions between county and city are the same; just duplicated.

    Bottom line: Yes of course it would make total economic sense to merge city and county government and especially when the city IS the county such as Charlotte/Mecklenburg. Bottom line 2: Whomever thought that what makes sense is what people do?

    • bsummers

      I just think the poisonous environment created when the GOP took over the legislature in 2010 will have to clear before any major re-ordering of the existing political entities takes place. Even if Moffitt isn’t re-elected, there will be more attacks on Asheville because it is a blue island in a red part of the state. I wouldn’t trust the Republicans in Raleigh OR in Buncombe to not ruin any well-meaning attempts to change things.

  3. Enlightened Enigma

    Hilarious that you are so against how the republicans finally wrested control of the legislature after 150+ years of democrackkk CONTROL and criminality!
    The people have had enough of that criminality in NC. NC democrackkks are historically EVIL.

  4. Stan Hawkins

    This topic brings to light some key questions. Let’s say it is the year 1800, Buncombe County is being spun off of Burke or Rutherford and coming in to existence. Naturally, the citizens want to establish order along the Buncombe Turnpike.

    A key question is, would the citizens with limited post war resources; establish a redundant government system, two separate school systems, two separate water control / treatment systems, and two separate law enforcement entities?

    Why would the citizens perceive any wisdom in establishing both of these two entities? Where would the money come from? Consider, would we set up; typically, two separate primary systems to run our own households? Or would we consider to what extent resources would be wasted and how better utilized?

    The authority to establish these two entities (City of Asheville) (Buncombe County) are granted by the state. Therefore, the authority to tax comes from the State of N.C. Why would the State of N.C. approve all of the duplication in jurisdiction, Woodfin – Black Mountain, etc.? Find the answer to when created, what was the motivation to create, and what political motivations were involved will most likely lead you to the answers to – how to unwind the unnecessary jurisdictions. The power to do so is in the vote.

    Business cycles have taught us that when businesses stretch and acquire many sub businesses that they often loose their way, even straying from what made them successful. Think GE, Ford, GM, Banks, for example. Eventually, they come to realize a flatter organization is more efficient and effective. Thus, a reorganization is often the solution and sometimes with different people.

    When you see a disconnect in logic, stewardship, effectiveness, efficiency, and power versus common sense you know it and can feel it when you see it. Vote for common sense.

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