By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Very little happened at the April meeting of the Burnside City Council — little more than a few reminder about upcoming events.
However, Mayor Ron Jones did have one very significant announcement to make: The meeting was Burnside’s first as a fourth-class city.
Of course, how long Burnside remains a city at all may depend on factors well beyond its borders.
“Yes sir,” said Jones when asked if he was excited about moving up in classification. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to explore all the advantages of being a fourth-class city and to move the town further forward than it’s moved so far.”
It was a long process — a year long. In February of 2012, the City of Burnside first started making a real push to be bumped up in the classification ranks.
The Kentucky Constitution used to set up city classification based on population size, but that section was repealed in 1994, and the legislature was given the authority to assign city-size classifications. As such, city officials can make a case to the state legislature to be moved to the classification that they feel best suits them, and the lawmakers can vote on the motion.
State Sen. Chris Girdler of Pulaski County brought Burnside’s request up for a vote in late March. Needless to say, it was approved.
State guidelines have fourth-class cities with a population of between 3,000 to 8,000 residents. Fifth-class cities, as Burnside previously was, have between 1,000 and 3,000.
Though the town had a permanent population of a little over 600 at the time of the 2010 census, the numbers are deceiving according to Jones — and Burnside actually has a much more abundant town, depending upon the time of year.
“We worked awfully hard on getting it, gathering information to be presented to the legislature,” said Jones. “Our population goes way up during the summer. About 20 percent (of the citizenship), I’d say we’re a second home to them. Right across the street from me, I’d say there are about four homes that are summertime homes. We’ve got a lot of residents, but not really full-time residents.
“But when you look at what a community needs, it needs a grocery store, it needs a lot ofd things that a community twice or three times our population does.”
Being fourth-class could help the city get more. Jones pointed out that loans and grants from the state — as well as federal agencies — would now be easier to acquire.
“My understanding is that loan grants are based on classification,” he said. “A fourth-class city has A, B, C class bonds. It’s a higher rating, and they’re more likely to reach term. We’ll qualify for a better interest rate.”
It could also affect the town’s ability to serve alcohol. As it is, Burnside could only serve alcohol by the drink in restaurants that primarily serve meals, with no less than 70 percent of profits coming from food. Jones noted that the change might allow restaurants to make it a 50-50 split — which means less concern about purchasing a bag of pretzels with every drink, as one might find to be the case when dining in Burnside. The “only town on Lake Cumberland” might also have the opportunity to hold an option election to go fully “wet” to sell alcohol in a retail store setting, something not possible when the city was fifth-class.
According to Jones, fourth-class is the “sweet spot” among city classifications in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“Everybody like the League of Cities says that all these cities want to be fourth-class,” said Jones, “because you’re allowed to govern yourself more and not be held to some of the more restrictive things that second- and third-class cities are.”
Of course, the proposal for a unified city-county government introduced Thursday by Somerset-Pulaski County United could stand to alter the way Burnside moves forward. Right now, plans are only to conduct a study to see if a consolidated government would be more effective in this county. If such a merge did come to pass in the next few years, however, Burnside as its citizens currently know it, governmentally, may cease to be.
Should the plan be realized, Pulaski Fiscal Court, Somerset City Council and governing bodies of Burnside, Ferguson and Science Hill by ordinance would create an official Unified Government Commission made up of between 20 and 40 members to plan a structure for a unified city-county government.
Pulaski Fiscal Court would appoint half the members of a Unified Government Commission, and the remaining members would be appointed by participating cities prorated on population.
While cities have the option to not be a part of the unified government and take a representative seat at that table, Jones is of the mind that the change could be a positive one for Burnside.
“As the economy falters, your towns are going to have greater and greater strains on their resources,” he said. “I would think that in our area, if we had one city hall, one police chief, one fire chief instead of every 400 or 500 people deciding they want their own mayor, council, fire department, police department and so forth, if they could haul all that into one organization, you sure could do a lot more with a lot less.”
As such, Jones says that he would support a unified government, as long as Burnside received adequate representation under the new set-up.
“I’d hate to see Burnside lose its identity, and maybe towns would not lose their identities, but from a taxpayer’s standpoint — and I am a taxpayer — I would be in favor of more services, better services, and less cost to me,” said Jones.
“I would want Burnside to have good representation,” he added. “I would think that the organization would want each town to be represented well. Otherwise, you’ve got one group or one train of thought and everyone else being forced to go along with it.
“If it looked like that wouldn’t happen (Burnside being represented fairly), I would not be for it.”