If Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro elected officials decide to look into any sort of consolidation, they need to give serious consideration to first combining certain services and collaborating in other ways before expecting to make one town out of two.
In other words, marriage is highly unlikely if North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro don’t first date for a substantial period to explore their compatibility.
With this in mind, a study should attempt to identify areas of collaboration between the two towns with the greatest potential for cost-savings and overall improved results.
Relations between the governing bodies of the two towns appear to be improving after the failed attempt at working together to establish a raw water intake on W. Kerr Scott Reservoir.
Both the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro governing bodies recently authorized studies by the same engineering firm to determine their respective costs of producing drinking water.
This information is needed as a foundation for consideration of any sort of joint efforts involving their respective water systems, including North Wilkesboro possibly buying water from Wilkesboro to address its need for a better water supply.
The level of consistency in zoning and other development-related codes is another issue. Until about five years ago, the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro planning boards were working toward mutual adoption of a unified development ordinance (UDO).
A UDO combines all development-related codes and into a one, user-friendly document. Examples of these regulations include subdivision standards, watershed rules and signage requirements. Differences between these regulations in the two towns can be confusing or aggravating for people.
Results of efforts to improve coordination between the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro fire departments have been mixed.
Before embarking on consolidation, fundamental differences between the two towns should be considered. These include differences in debt, tax base and facility, utility and additional infrastructure needs and there are surely others.
According to reports resulting from studies on municipal consolidation elsewhere, dissimilar service levels and/or tax bases can result in higher property taxes for residents of one of two towns that combine.
Some of these reports focus on differences between “functional” consolidation, which is sharing services or resources, and “structural” consolidation, which is fully combining into a single town.
Structural consolidation is rare, but instances of this typically involve towns that already were engaged in functional consolidation. For example, they had already combined police departments, utilities or other services.
A structural consolidation is difficult because it’s a political undertaking requiring compromises that can be costly, especially those involving personnel.
Two towns that already shared services, jointly undertook infrastructure projects and entered into contracts together have a greater likelihood of successfully pulling off a structural consolidation. They might also discover that functional consolidation is enough to achieve their objectives.