Commonwealth Journal

July 13, 2013

Schmidt exploring distant cities for study

BY BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The study to determine feasibility of uniting city and county governments in Pulaski County has broadened its scope to the parishes of Louisiana, Big Sky Country of Montana and to the shores of Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
Luke B. Schmidt, of L.B. Schmidt and Associates, said as part of the Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU) study he has met with elected officials, CEOs, mayors, chambers of commerce executives, economic development officials and newspaper editors in Houma, Louisiana, seat of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana; Butte, Montana, seat of Silver Bow County consolidated in 1977 to form the sole entity of Butte-Silver Bow; and Carson City, Nevada, officially the consolidated Municipality of Carson City with expanded boundaries that touch the banks of Lake Tahoe.
 The consultant said in all three communities the overall response was that consolidation has been good and there has been more prosperity because of it. It was “really interesting,” he added.
  Locally, Schmidt said he has met with Mayor Ron Jones of Burnside and Mayor Allen Dobbs of Ferguson and has meetings scheduled with Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock and Mayor Bill Dick of Science Hill.
  About Ferguson City Council opting out of the united government plan, Schmidt remarked: “I don’t want to speak to the politics of the resolution ... and get bogged down in that.”
 Somerset also has rejected unified governments and refused to participate in financing the $35,000 study. Schmidt said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler sent him a letter rejecting a request for a meeting. He (Schmidt) said he wanted permission to study infrastructure and operational methods of Pulaski County’s largest municipal government.
  “I sent a letter to all five mayors and the county judge-executive,” said Schmidt. “I followed the letters with a telephone call.”
 From the onset of the study, Girdler and Somerset City Council have strongly rejected the idea of merged governments and directed the city’s legal department to get whatever help is necessary to protect the integrity of its boundaries.
 “I still would like to sit down with him (Girdler),” Schmidt said. He said earlier that studies of this type are controversial “ ... and that’s a good thing. Merger of governments is not to be taken lightly. We are disappointed but we respect that.”
   SPCU, chaired by developer Brook Ping and composed of more than 80 of the county’s movers and shakers, has made it clear from the start it is not advocating merged governments, only a study to determine the feasibility.
  The $35,000 cost of the study was initially suggested to be paid with a third of the money from Somerset, a third from Pulaski County government and a third to be paid by SPCU members.
 Pulaski Fiscal Court greeted the SPCU request more warmly and granted $11,667 to pay its share of the cost of the study. Two thirds of the cost apparently will be paid with contributions from members of SPCU.
  Eubank, because its corporate limits straddles the Pulaski-Lincoln county line, would not be eligible to be a part of a merged city-county government, according to state law.
  Existing boundaries of incorporated cities in a merged city-county government would disappear and the cities would revert to communities without governments.
 The completed study, if favorable toward a unified city-county government, would be presented to local governmental bodies.
  Then, according to law, 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. Somerset and Ferguson apparently would not participate and, according to Schmidt, “would not have a seat at the table.”
  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. 
  Any type of merged governments must be approved by voters of Pulaski County.