City, county to discuss consolidating services

Published May 26, 2007

TAMPA - City and Hillsborough County officials plan to meet this summer to discuss consolidating such services as solid waste, road maintenance, and human resources.

"We're trying to figure out how to operate more efficiently. One of the avenues that our board has encouraged us to look at is where there might be duplication of services, " said Wally Hill, deputy administrator for Hillsborough County.

"They might not have been thinking about city and county duplication of services, but that seemed like an area to us where we might find some efficiencies."

The move comes as local governments across the state scramble to trim budgets in anticipation of revenue losses likely to result from property tax reform on the state level.

"There are certainly areas we'd like to explore, " said Darrell Smith, Mayor Pam Iorio's chief of staff. He rattled off health insurance, prescription plans, solid waste collection and auto parts purchases as likely targets.

County commissioners and City Council members asked about the concept Friday were receptive, and some talked about it laying the groundwork for combining the two governments altogether.

"When I hear about places like Jacksonville that consolidated everything 30 years ago with Duval County, it sort of makes me very jealous because they don't have to worry about parochial issues at all and they can just move forward as one unit, " said City Council member John Dingfelder.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe predicted the county would move in that direction over the next 10 to 20 years, but in the meantime, consolidating services, such as permitting, is a good way to accommodate budget cuts.

"I really believe these reductions are an opportunity, " he said. "We have to look at new ways of providing service."

Council member Tom Scott said anything that might cut costs and maintain service levels should be looked at, including consolidation of governments.

"It's a thing that can work, " he said, but he noted that Hillsborough County voters in the past rejected the drastic step of combining city and county governments.

County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said she has long thought the city and county should join forces in some areas, but said she would draw the line at police and sheriff's services, fire rescue operations, and consolidating the governments altogether.

"We ought to hang on to what the city does best and what the county does best, " she said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.