City and county officials should be commended for taking a look at...The status of Bedford

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By Tom Wilmoth

Almost 40 years ago, the editorial writer of this page wrote this:

?We now live in the City of Bedford ? that is, some 6,500 of us do. Most of these 6,500 had little to say about the decision which brought this about. In fact, a considerable part of them, given the chance last June to render, at least indirectly, a verdict on the plan to make Bedford a city, voted against it. In the circumstances, the council?s decision for the transition must be considered unfortunate, both as to manner and timing.? (from the Bedford Bulletin-Democrat, Sept. 5, 1968).

Now, change may once again be in the works.

City Council is now considering whether it should give up its city status and become a town. The hope is this would be a joint voluntary agreement with Bedford County, benefiting both.

The idea, at first blush, seems to make sense. A detailed study by representatives from both localities will dig deeper to see if it?s indeed feasible.

The city and county need each other. Though the current relationship is good between the two governing bodies, the truth is each still vies against the other for economic dollars. While there have been good strides made to minimize this conflict ? such as the joint revenue sharing partnership at the eastern part of the city ? there still remains the need for each government to add economic victories to its coffers. If the city were to once again become part of the county, that competition would be eliminated. As officials have said, it?s hard enough to compete against other localities and states without having to compete against your own neighbor.

If Bedford gave up its city status, it would also eliminate the need for contractual arrangements which the two localities share. The city already contracts with the county to provide social services, school, tourism, court services and others. Because those services are shared, there would be little change involved if the city became a town. In fact, such a move could eliminate one of the bigger areas of complaint between the city and county ? that pesky school contract. Invariably that issue is raised as a point of contention as the annual budgets are being hammered out. The city receives more money per pupil because of the state funding formula and that bothers some county officials who think the city isn?t paying its fair share.

If Bedford does give up its city status, it won?t lose its identity, an identity that is important to this community ? and one that will be preserved. That?s a non-issue. The uniqueness of Bedford will remain, whether it?s a town or a city.

More important, however, is the impact such a change could have on the citizens? pocketbooks. City officials are stating taxes, in theory, shouldn?t go up to city residents, if Bedford became a town. That issue will certainly be an important consideration. Those in Bedford will want their level of services to continue, but won?t want to pay more for them. And they shouldn?t have to do so, if conventional wisdom is accurate.

Of course, this entire discussion is just at the study stage. But it?s an aggressive study, with the expected outcome to be in favor of reverting back to town status. Unlike 40 years ago, the city should plan carefully and listen closely to its residents, before making any decision. This is not a decision to make in haste, but with great prudence.

It certainly is worth the study ? and in these early stages, it appears to make economic sense.