Harrison County will study consolidation

GULFPORT, MS - Consolidating government services is an idea that's been considered before on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And that idea has surfaced again, this time with fire services in Harrison County.

The topic came up at Monday morning's Harrison County Board of Supervisors meeting during a discussion about future staffing needs for the county's fire services.

That department is headed-up by Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan, the former longtime City of Gulfport fire chief. He said while there are obvious benefits to consolidation, there are significant hurdles as well.

"We all know we have to do more with less in this economy. And that's a way of doing it," Sullivan told supervisors during a discussion of consolidation.

He told the board, consolidation of fire services would save money and create other benefits. But supervisors also know the road blocks to consolidating government services.

"Law enforcement is a tougher deal to do because of the turf battles. Fire service, there may be some involved in there, but I think there's tremendous economies of scale and better service to the taxpayers if we could initiate these discussions. And it's probably going to have to come from us," said Supervisor Kim Savant.

"What we want to lay out on the table is a five year, ten year, 15 year and a 20 year plan that would spell this out, show how it could be done; the cost savings of it," said Fire Marshal Sullivan.

The president of the board of supervisors said consolidation certainly could not happen overnight. But Windy Swetman believes if it could save the taxpayers a considerable amount of money, it's certainly worth a closer look.

"It's going to have to be a considerable change. A large variation in saving taxpayer dollars. And then I do believe the taxpayers will get behind it and support it. This is something that certainly couldn't be done without a referendum. You know, the taxpayers have the final say," said Swetman.

Politics, pay scales and departmental policies are all possible impediments to consolidating fire services.

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