“The members of SPCU want to make it very clear: we are not endorsing unified government at this time,” said Ping. “We need to learn more about it first so that we will feel comfortable in the end with whatever recommendations that we might bring to the community.”
The plan met with different reactions from some of the key figures involved. When SPCU approached the Somerset City Council to ask for assistance funding the study — expected to cost about $35,000 — they were rebuffed by Mayor Eddie Girdler.
The Pulaski County Fiscal Court, however — headed up by Judge-Executive Barty Bullock — agreed to chip in the requested $11,667 during a late April meeting and proved more receptive to SPCU’s message.
“This study will provide invaluable information and data to the entire community,” said Bullock. “We want to learn more about this to see if unified government makes sense for the community.”
The study will include detailed interviews with elected officials and key staff in each of the county’s incorporated cities, along with those in county government.
“This study will not merge local governments. The study is merely one of many steps that the community may elect to take towards unified government,” said Luke Schmidt, consultant to SPCU from the firm L.B. Schmidt & Associates, LLC. “In the end, only the voters can decide if the local government jurisdictions should merge, and they will do so only if a formal plan (charter) of unified government is developed by an officially sanctioned Unified Government Commission and presents its plan to the voters.
“The study simply provides all parties with the information that will be needed to make informed decisions,” he added.
SPCU’s members represent all segments of the community: agriculture, business and industry, education, elected officials, health care, industry, law enforcement and public safety, professionals, religion and transportation.
Schmidt will be contacting local officials soon in order to start the examination of the local government jurisdictions, according to a statement released Friday by SPCU.
“We look forward to sharing all of the findings with the community as soon as the study has been completed,” said Ping.