Rupert Howell editorial 12/9/2014

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Consolidation of county seats about more than money

It should not be just about spending fewer tax dollars.

Panola County supervisors have initiated a feasibility study on combining the functions of both of the county’s district courthouses, the First District Courthouse in Sardis and the Second Court District Courthouse in Batesville, into one located centrally in the county.

But there should be more to the study than just trading two, located approximately 10 miles apart, for one—centrally located in the center of the county with bond payments for construction over X number of years.

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There would then be two vacant buildings. It seemed as an assumption that the City of Batesville would want the use of the one in Batesville. Don’t know if that’s so. Would two municipalities involved want to saddle the high cost of older buildings that county officials think are too costly to maintain?

What about convenience? Some think that government should be run like a business. But that’s not always possible and like comparing apples to oranges.

Surely government can be run using sound financial principals, but the road department and sheriff’s department will never show a profit or break even.

They both operate on budgets that come mostly from property tax revenue, performing specific tasks and services that county governments are obligated to provide—enforce the law and maintain roads.

Citizens’ responsibilities should be made convenient. Paying taxes and fees, going to court or jury duty, registering to vote or visiting an elected official should not be a burden. Panola is a large county and for one to travel from one corner to another requires a block of time, even with transportation as it is today.

Changes in technology have made it possible to do some tasks from the home or office.
The county’s administration has made technological changes and there is no reason to believe that more county business can be handled online or over the telephone in years to come.
A study on just the financial aspect of courthouse consolidation may be a starting point, but other factors of government service should be considered when looking at this issue.