Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tiny N.C. town dissolving; others may follow suit; could be a growing phenomenon around nation

Centerville (Wall Street Journal photo by Valerie Bauerlein)
Some very small towns are giving up their governments, or thinking about it, because they can no longer afford them, Valerie Bauerlein reports for The Wall Street Journal from Centerville, N.C., population 89, which will soon be merely a community, not a municipality.

"Centerville isn’t alone," she writes. "Already running on lean budgets that provide for only a handful of public services, many small local governments throughout the U.S. are being pushed to the brink financially as residents move to bigger cities. But municipalities—and their voters—rarely agree to give up their identities."

In North Carolina, at least three other towns are considering dissolution, Bauerlein reports: "One is Fair Bluff, a town of 950 near the South Carolina line, where flooding from last year’s Hurricane Matthew eroded the property-tax base and contaminated one of two water tanks. In Pennsylvania, roughly 100 of the smallest local governments were in crisis and would meet the financial and demographic criteria to be taken under state control, said David Rusk, a Democratic former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., who studies and consults on consolidation."

“They can’t solve their problems themselves,” Rusk told Bauerlein. “Wealth has left these little cities to such a degree that they’re basically bankrupt.”

In Centerville, where only 12 people voted in the last city election, the government's main service is street lights, Bauerlein reports: "The mayor and council members voted to dissolve the town’s charter and become unincorporated in January, after a measure to raise property taxes failed. A state senator brought a bill last month to repeal the town’s charter.The town will continue to exist as a community, but any local-government services will be provided by the county. Any money left over after the town is unincorporated will be donated to the local volunteer fire department, according to the legislation."

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