The Kentucky General Assembly has made laws easier for cities and counties to consolidate governments, but at this point, despite several tries, no unified governments under these amended laws exist in the state.
An effort to study benefits and efficiencies of a unified government by a group of county leaders clustered as Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU) was announced a little more than a week ago. At this point it has generated a lot of questions, considerable support and some wide-open snarling and growling.
A question frequently asked is what effect a unified city-county government would have on constitutional offices such as county judge-executive, sheriff, jailer, county clerk and magistrate? Would their duties change? Would they continue to draw their generous salaries?
Laura Ross, legal services counsel for the Kentucky League of Cities, said it would depend on what type of unified government is established.
Under amended laws, there are two types of merged city-county governments –- charter county governments and unified local governments, Ross said. A unified local government plan apparently would be submitted for voter approval at the end of an optimistic study being proposed by SPCU.
Statutes for a unified local government are more detailed and stringent than for a charter county government, Ross said.
And, yes, according to Ross, all offices provided for in the Kentucky constitution and local government employees would be retained in a unified local government. Duties of constitutional officeholders could be changed but it appears they would continue to draw their constitutionally mandated salaries.
In Pulaski County, salaries paid to county officials are no small potatoes.
When Pulaski County’s population exceeded 60,000 in the 2010 federal census, state law changed the pay group for four elected officials and gave each an annual pay raise of about $6,800. Annual salaries for Judge-executive Barty Bullock, Sheriff Todd Wood, Jailer Mike Harris and County Clerk Ralph Troxtell increased for each from $92,412.43 to $99,312.05, effective at the beginning of their current terms. Salaries are set by law and they have to take it.