ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers will consider reducing the number of counties and school districts in Georgia.
This is an issue that hasn’t gotten a lot of traction over the years because each county is packed with local politicians wielding their own political power. But, a move to consolidate counties now has signs of life.
South Georgia’s Stewart County lost 12% of its population over the last decade. It’s a county with a very sleepy downtown in the county seat of Lumpkin, and its largest industry is a for-profit prison and immigration detention center.
Stewart County is one of 67 in Georgia that has lost population over the last decade, according to the 2020 census – a huge swath of the state.
Recently, some lawmakers said it’s time to consider combining some of those counties in decline. We’re looking at, do we need to consolidate?" explained Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) "We have some areas that don’t have a Walmart, barely have a grocery store."
Georgia has 159 counties, the second most in the U.S. only to Texas. Illinois, which is about the same size as Georgia, has 102 counties. Wisconsin, which is slightly larger, has 72 counties – fewer than half of what Georgia has.
Fewer Georgia counties could make it more cost-effective to provide county services – like school systems, law enforcement and elections. But consolidation would also upend local political power bases – like county commissioners and sheriffs, who may be reluctant to eliminate their own jobs.
"We don’t want to disturb anybody’s local government. That’s not the point. It’s about how to best serve the people in those areas," added Taylor, who wrote a resolution to create a study committee to hold hearings on the issue.
Such consolidation could affect metro Atlanta counties as well – particularly at a time when GOP lawmakers have shown they have an appetite to rework the commission districts of Democratic-leaning counties.