Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Texarkana is one city, separated by a main street that happens to be a state border. Over the years, officials on both the Arkansas and Texas sides have talked occasionally about consolidating services but have never gotten very far. Now, with several top positions vacant in both places, there is renewed hope that the cities can finally cooperate without setting off too great a turf battle.
Plenty of adjoining communities in other places waste money by offering duplicative services. But not many of them share the same name and have fire stations located within sight of each other. Since "nothing but a street" separates the two communities, as a former mayor on the Texas side says, the local chamber of commerce has been holding informational meetings and running a technical study of consolidation, examining state and federal regulations that might stand in the way.
There may be other obstacles. Close as they are, the two Texarkanas have moved in different economic directions, largely because of policies enacted at the state level. Regulation of business is less strict in Texas--there are no usury laws, for example--and retail development has tended to migrate there, leaving Texarkana, Arkansas, to play catch-up. James Bramlett, the current mayor on the Texas side, says he is proud of his town's relative prosperity and wouldn't want to see anything damage it.
But even Bramlett admits twin fire departments and separate public works agencies are a waste of money. He doesn't believe consolidation would save a lot on personnel costs, but he does think the two adjacent towns could stop buying so much duplicate equipment--"It's one of the biggest cost-saving factors that we can address," Bramlett says.
It's not that the towns have never shared anything. They once did have a common fire chief, and they still use the same water supply. But there wasn't much momentum to go further until the city manager's slot on both sides went vacant, along with other top jobs, leading some to insist that now might be a good time to see what could be done.
Texarkana, Texas, has since filled its manager position, but with the mayor's support, talks are moving ahead. "It's something that ought to be manageable," says a member of the chamber of commerce task force. "It's something that would be smart to do, to look at services that are only separated by another street, even though it's a state line."
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