That was fast

Published 9:39 am Friday, December 10, 2010

Proponents of smaller, more efficient government have to be discouraged by how quickly Southampton County dismissed the possibility of consolidating its Department of Social Services with neighboring Franklin’s.

Count us among the disheartened.

A downsized Western Tidewater economy simply can’t support business as usual by our local governments. The announcement more than a year ago by International Paper Co. that its Franklin mill would close should have been the impetus for Franklin and Southampton County leaders to get serious about shared services, if not outright consolidation.

The Department of Social Services was a great place to start. A vacancy in Southampton County’s executive director position presented the perfect opportunity to immediately eliminate a six-figure compensation package from the taxpayers’ shoulders.

Instead, without any substantive discussion between the two entities or opportunity for public input, Southampton looked at one other location in Virginia that has tried social-services consolidation and jumped to the conclusion that no money could be saved. The county then rushed out and hired an executive director, and that was that.

The decision apparently was driven by something called the Southampton County Department of Social Services Administrative Board. So much for the joint study panel that County Administrator Mike Johnson and City Manager June Fleming said in February would be formed to look seriously at the possibility. By May, county officials had dismissed consolidation entirely.

Franklin officials, to their credit, still believe the idea has merit and remain willing and ready to sit down with Southampton officials and pursue it. The rush to judgment was entirely by Southampton.

If next-door neighbors can’t cooperate in the delivery of welfare services, is there any hope for making local government smaller and more efficient?