Commonwealth Journal

December 12, 2013

Study on unified government expected next month

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — The study report on unified city governments in Pulaski County will be a lengthy document – “ ... an interesting report with interesting conclusions and interesting recommendations,” according to Luke B. Schmidt of L.B. Schmidt and Associates, consultant for the $35,000 study.

“I’m writing the report as we speak,” Schmidt said Wednesday by telephone from his Prospect, Ky. office. He laughingly declined to reveal additional information about the study, now expected to be released in late January. The document will include a summary, he added.

Schmidt and Brook Ping, chair of Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU), both said releasing results of the study during the holiday season is not a good idea “when everybody is busy.”

No concrete date, only projections, has been given for release of the study. Schmidt initially said it might be ready in September and then suggested it could be released in November.

“Like any good project, we missed the target date,” Schmidt said.

Asked during a September interview to whom the report will be released, Schmidt responded: “That’s up to members of SPCU. SPCU will decide to whom the study is given.”

SPCU claims up to 150 members, most of whom are movers and shakers in the community.

SPCU has emphasized from the onset that the study will not advocate unification of city and county governments; only determine the feasibility of unified governments. They have pointed out that Somerset, with its current population of 11,296, is the 33rd largest city in Kentucky. Unified, with a population of more than 63,000, Somerset, now a third-class city, would be the third largest city in the state, qualifying for 2nd-class status.

A major stumbling block is Somerset’s refusal to participate in the study. Somerset City Council has directed its legal department to obtain whatever help necessary to protect the existence and boundaries of the city. Ferguson City Council also has adopted a resolution opting out of the study.

Unified governments in the county would dissolve city boundaries and create one government for the entire county. The exception is Eubank which straddles the Pulaski-Lincoln county line and by state law is not eligible to participate in a unified government.

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. It is not clear at this point how lack of participation by Somerset, the largest city in the county, would affect the unification process.

Any type of merged governments must be approved by voters of Pulaski County.