By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
When it comes to a unified city-county government in Pulaski County, Barty Bullock takes the “wait-and-see” approach.
“I’m all for doing the study,” said Bullock, the current Pulaski County Judge-Executive, officially the head man of county government. “I think we owe it to the people of the county to look at it.
“As far as being for it (a unified government), it’s hard to say until the studies are done and we look at the options,” he added. “We’ll have to go from there.”
Bullock was reacting to the news on Thursday of last week that a group called Somerset-Pulaski County United was spearheading an effort to see if a merged government would be feasible for this area.
The first step is, very simply, a study that would be conducted to find out if a combined government would be effective locally. If so, governing bodies from the county (the fiscal court which Bullock oversees), City of Somerset, City of Burnside, City of Ferguson, and City of Sciences Hill, would create a commission of between 20 and 40 members to run the area as one single municipality, rather than having separate entities as is done now.
As explained at Thursday’s press conference by consultant L.B. Schmidt, president of Louisville-based L.B. Schmidt & Associates, SPCU would complete a study in about four months and present its findings to local governmental bodies.
The study will need funding and pitches will be made to local government agencies to help provide the resources to conduct the study. Bullock’s Pulaski County Fiscal Court will hear a presentation about the merged government at Tuesday’s meeting, according to the released agenda.
A new Somerset-Pulaski County unified government would create Kentucky’s third largest city with a population of 63,700. It would be the first unified government of its kind in Kentucky, different from metro governments in Louisville and Lexington.
The current county government would have substantial influence, as the fiscal court would appoint half the members of the Unified Government Commission. Bullock said that doesn’t make a significant impact on whether or not he supports the idea, however.
“From my understanding, it would be a whole new form of government,” he said, though he noted that “it looks more like the county than the city government.”
Whatever the case, Bullock said that his interest is in the welfare of Pulaski’s citizens.
“My whole goal is to do whatever’s best for the people of the county, whatever that is, and if (the unified government) is it, we’d better look at it,” said Bullock. “It may be one of those things that costs me my job. If it is, that’s fine, if that’s what’s best for the county.”
Bullock sees one of the key advantages of the unified government is the way it will change how Somerset is perceived by those elsewhere in the country, and the doors that might open for expanded industrial advancements.
“When people from Chicago or wherever are looking for a place in Kentucky to locate their business, whether it’s manufacturing or something else, and they pull up a list of cities, they pull up Somerset and see it (has a population) of 11,000 people and so on,” said Bullock. “With this unified (change), it would be 63,000. When you look at it from that standpoint, it would have to be a plus.”
The City of Somerset had a population of 11,196 in the release of the 2010 U.S. Census.
Combining resources might also allow the county to more effectively lobby for loans and grants.
“When we ask for money from the state and federal government, (we’re doing it as) five cities and the county; that’s six different governments that all go ask for money,” said Bullock. “I think our chances are a whole lot better if we go as one whole (entity).”
When asked what the negatives of a unified government would be, Bullock did not have anything specific to offer.
“From my understanding, it doesn’t bother anything like school districts, or change boundary lines for alcohol, things like that,” he said. “I don’t really know what the downfall would be.”
Bullock said he plans on getting together with the individuals conducting the survey and extensively looking at what’s on the table. He may also go to Frankfort and talk with state personnel, he said.
“I want to fully understand it,” he said. “Right now, I am in favor of the study being done.”