By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Pulaski County Fiscal court has resoundingly thrown its support behind a study to determine whether there would be any benefits to local citizens should the city and county enter into a merged government.
“I think you do have our full support on what you’re doing,” said Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock to the group’s members who attended Tuesday’s Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting. “It’s all about the future, it’s not about today. It’s all about the future and what our children and grandchildren have to look forward to.”
And county officials’ statements appear to be the total opposite of the reception the Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU) group received while at a Somerset City Council meeting Monday evening.
The council on Monday evening declined to hear a presentation from members of SPCU, and the council passed a resolution stating that the city would not support a proposed merged government or help fund the $35,000 study the SPCU group is hoping to carry out.
Several councilors during Monday’s meeting said they felt a merged government wouldn’t benefit the city, but they also stated they’d listen to a presentation from the group during the April 22 meeting before forming opinions on the issue.
But SPCU received some harsh comments from Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during that meeting.
“In two weeks, don’t ask for money,” said Girdler. “ ... Don’t put the city council on the spot without doing your job. We’ve got too many intelligent people (in the group) that’s ... done everything wrong.
“ ... Surely to goodness you can take $500 apiece and do (the study) yourself,” Girdler said. “Why ask the city and county for any money? You want to do a study, do it yourself. Don’t ask the taxpayers to do your dirty work.”
Girdler’s lashing made at least one city official uncomfortable, and Councilor Jim Rutherford stated that he didn’t agree with the mayor’s “scolding” of the group.
“The mayor shouldn’t have scolded you all,” Rutherford said. “You’re good people. You believe in what you believe in. The mayor shouldn’t have scolded you.”
“ ... I don’t like groups coming in here that’s not well prepared and asking to destroy the city,” Girdler responded. “I’ll scold anybody who’s (intending) to destroy the city.”
SPCU members took the opportunity to respond to some of those comments during Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting.
“A study is not dirty work,” said Kentucky State Senator Chris Girdler. “It is the people’s work.
“ ... This is an example of a public and a private partnership,” Senator Girdler said, in response to Mayor Girdler’s question about why the group is seeking funding from local governments. “It happens everyday in communities.”
And Senator Girdler said on Tuesday he felt the need to “ ... dispel any rumors or misinformation that folks may be ... spewing out of personal ambition, political motivation, out of fear possibly, out of uncertainty, and possibly simply out of discomfort.
“We are not recommending a merged government,” Senator Girdler stated. “We are simply asking that we, as citizens of this community, be given the opportunity to find out more about unified government as a potential option for us, and then we will allow the people of this community to decide.”
Brook Ping, Stonebrook Development, LLC CEO and SPCU chairman, said the group has grown overnight from around 60 members to 80.
Ping told fiscal court that the idea for the study did not come out of a recent disagreement between the county and city over EMS funding. He said the idea came from a roundtable discussion held several months ago about ways to better the community.
“What could we do to change some things?” Ping said they asked at the discussion. “What could we do to make our community better than what it is?”
Ping said he’s been told by businesses that Somerset, with its population of a little more than 11,000, doesn’t meet their demographic profile. That’s where the idea for a merged government came about, according to Ping. A city with more than 60,000 people — which would occur should the city and county merge — would attract a much higher number of businesses to the area.
“Everybody I spoke to was all in favor of learning more about this idea,” said Ping, who emphasized that he has yet to form an opinion on a merged government. “I don’t know all the facts, but I want to know them, I want to be educated about it.”
Ping said talks of a “take-over” of the city or the county are unfounded, and he said the study has nothing to do with either county or city governments.
“This is not a county project, and I don’t want you thinking it’s a county project,” said Ping. “It’s not a city project, and I don’t want them thinking it’s a city project.
“It’s a community project,” Ping continued. “And it’s not a project to take over one or take over the other. It’s a project to learn more about what we’re doing here.”
Ping also said he would fight “tooth and nail” to ensure jobs aren’t lost as a result of a merged government — should that even be an option after the study is completed.
“The goal is jobs, economic development, the future,” Ping said.
Magistrates were quick to offer their support of the study — although a decision on whether to provide a portion of the funding required for the study was tabled until the April 23 fiscal court meeting because Magistrate Glenn Maxey wasn’t in attendance.
“Anything that makes Pulaski County better, I’m for it,” said Magistrate Mike Strunk. “Somerset’s a great city, Pulaski County’s a great place to live, and we all want to better ourselves and better our future for our kids.”
Magistrate Jason Turpen said the study could uncover details about how the city and county governments operate — and whether there is a better option.
“I think the study is a wonderful thing for Pulaski County,” Turpen said. “It’ll let us know a little bit more about the county as a whole and how everything is working now.”
Bullock said the first priority of the effort should be the citizens of the county and city both.
“I strongly applaud you guys for the step you’re taking, for having the initiative and the foresight to look into the future and explore what would be better for the people of the county,” said Bullock.
“This unified government could cost me my job,” Bullock continued, “but that’s okay if that’s better for the county because that should be all of our goals, not what’s better for me or better for us, but what’s better for all involved.
“We’d like to see a study done just to see what the difference would be,” Bullock said.