An effort seeking a study to determine the pros and cons of consolidating Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro was started Tuesday by North Wilkesboro Commissioner Andrew Palmer.
Palmer’s “Bridge the Boros” initiative includes an online campaign and petition drive in support of establishing a joint study commission to look into combining the two towns, including by hiring a consultant to do an unbiased analysis of consolidation.
As of Thursday afternoon, 245 visitors had signed the petition. The campaign’s Facebook page had received 336 “likes” as of Thursday afternoon.
Palmer was the top vote-getter when elected to his first four-year term in office in November.
When asked Wednesday what he thought about the consolidation campaign and petition, North Wilkesboro Mayor Robert Johnson declined to comment. Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore also had no comment when asked about the matter Thursday.
Palmer said in an interview that he launched the “Bridge the Boros” initiative because Wilkes County is facing a serious economic situation. “Both towns are facing tough economic situations and are in somewhat of a fragile state when it comes to the local economy. Neither town is in a promising economic position at this moment.”
He said he learned from researching the subject that some towns have benefitted greatly from consolidation while others have had mixed results. “One thing was for certain: the unity that came with consolidation put them in a better situation regarding vision and strategic planning for the future. I think this is what we need more than anything,” he said.
Palmer added that he has heard citizens say consolidation is a good idea but will never happen. “But, a study can and will happen if the people so choose it,” he added.
Palmer wrote in the column, “Now is the time for the citizens of each town to take action and make a decision on whether they want their elected officials to pass resolutions that would create a joint study commission to investigate the pros and cons of consolidating the two towns into one larger, stronger town.”
There are many ways a study could be done, Palmer wrote, but he cited the option of establishing a commission comprised of two elected officials from each town and two or three citizens from each town “to help carry out the legwork of the study.”
He wrote that the consultant hired to conduct an unbiased analysis of consolidation could do a baseline study of each’s town’s operations, finances and other services and analyze how consolidation might work under different scenarios.
The study could cost between $50,000 and $70,000, according to an estimate from the Center for Government Research, which Palmer obtained. He wrote that this cost “could be split by the towns or possibly even come from donors from the private sector.” The study might take a year or two to complete, he added.
If consolidation is recommended by the study, according to state statutes, citizens of the towns could then vote for or against consolidation on a ballot referendum.
“The citizens of this community should take it upon themselves to make a choice of whether to initiate a joint study commission,” wrote Palmer. “If the citizens want it, it should happen. If not, then it shouldn’t. It’s that simple. After all, it is their community and their tax dollars.”
Palmer wrote that even if the study didn’t recommend consolidation, it would “put the issue to rest knowing that we finally did the right thing and took the initiative to look into it after all these many years of conversation with no action.”
He wrote that potential benefits of consolidation include allowing better strategic planning for the future, more cost effective and efficient services, being in a better position for grants, being better positioned to market the community and community spirit.
Palmer said in the interview that he believes a revival of community spirit is already happening. “In less than 24 hours I can’t believe the overwhelming positive support we are seeing. People are happy and excited that something good may be happening in their area.”
Palmer added, “I know where the elected officials in North Wilkesboro stand” on consolidation. “I would love to meet with the Wilkesboro people (elected officials) or at least talk to them on the phone. I know we can all easily work together on this.”
N.C. Statutes 153A-401 through 405 under Article 20 give municipalities the authority to form consolidation and governmental study commissions.