By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
County officials have agreed to help fund a study into the possible benefits of a merged government structure.
“I feel it’s very important for the community to be behind this, both financially and morally,” said Brooke Ping, Stonebrook Development CEO and chair of Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU), during Tuesday’s Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting.
Fiscal court on Tuesday voted to give SPCU — a committee that has grown from around 50 members to more than 120 — the requested $11,667, which is a third of the total cost of the study.
The total cost stands at $35,000.
“All we’re talking about is cooperation within the community,” said Ping about the study.
In a roll call vote taken Tuesday, all but one magistrate voted to help fund the study. Magistrate Mike Wilson, 2nd District, was the lone voice of dissent — although he emphasized that he was “100 percent” behind SPCU’s efforts.
“ ... I’m not for money coming out of the county money, the taxpayers’ money, on it,” said Wilson. “I’ve thought this thing over hard for two weeks. I’m not cool with that.”
Wilson suggested that 70 people could fund the study by chipping in $500 each. He even said he would gladly chip in $500 toward the effort.
“If there’s not 70 people in a county as big as Pulaski not willing to give $500 apiece, this thing ain’t worth doing,” said Wilson.
4th District Magistrate Glenn Maxey pointed out that raising the money isn’t the issue. SPCU is seeking out a public-private partnership with backing from local governments.
“People ask us why we don’t fund this thing ourselves,” said Ping. “Why? I’ll tell you why. That (the taxpayer) is exactly who the people this is going to affect. This is the kind of thing the government should be doing.
“The government should be using tax dollars to try to streamline government, provide public services, and infrastructure, all types of things,” added Ping.
Cooperation is far from what the group has received from Somerset officials. The group was lambasted by Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during the April 8 Somerset City Council meeting — so harshly that Ward 1 Councilor Jim Rutherford apologized to the group for the mayor’s “scolding.”
“The mayor shouldn’t have scolded you,” said Rutherford to the group. “You all are good people.”
Other city councilors stated they wouldn’t mind hearing a presentation, but they felt a merged government wouldn’t benefit the city.
SPCU members also attended the most recent city council meeting, held on Monday, April 22, but Girdler stated that they would not be heard because the council had already passed a resolution rejecting any proposals from SPCU.
During Monday’s meeting, Rutherford asked that the group submit their proposal in writing to him.
“I’d like to hear more,” Rutherford said.
SPCU member and Senator Chris Girdler said during Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting that the welcoming reception they received from county officials was a “refreshing” change of pace.
“We never would have thought that it would be such a relief ... as us as private citizens and individuals simply concerned about our community to be able to express some of our view points and ask just to simply be heard,” said Senator Chris Girdler during Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting.
SPCU has spoken to Burnside City Council and Science Hill City Commission, and Girdler said the group will appear before Ferguson city officials next.
“Unfortunately, we have not been met with that same cordialness, that same open-mindedness in the halls of government just down the street on East Mt. Vernon Street,” said Senator Girdler. “It would be laughable ... if it weren’t so tragic.
“It’s tragic in the sense that it’s un-American,” Senator Girdler continued. “In America we believe in the freedom of speech and freedom to petition the government, and we are not even petitioning the government. We are simply seeking knowledge.”
Senator Girdler emphasized that SPCU is not recommending a merged form of government.
“What we are simply doing is asking to study the issues,” said Senator Girdler. “ ... To see if there is any way that we can turn good government to great.”
Pulaski County Treasurer Joan Isaacs stated she spoke with representatives with the Kentucky Department of Local Government to make sure the county is authorized to contribute to the SPCU study.
“I want to thank every one of you guys for being willing to donate your time and stand up and try to help the county out and move us forward,” Maxey said to SPCU members.
If a consolidation of governments is deemed feasible, 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.
The commission would propose a new government structure to be presented to voters in the county. If approved, existing governments would be disbanded and the new governmental structure put in place. Committee leaders say implementation of a city-county government would take up to four years, or more.
Ping said SPCU’s consultant, Luke Schmidt, of L.B. Schmidt & Associates, LLC, out of Louisville, would need at least four months to carry out the study.