Commonwealth Journal

January 22, 2014

Unified government plan to be unveiled

Public invited to hear results of SPCU study at Center tonight

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

A 10-month study on feasibility of unified local governments in Pulaski County will be discussed tonight at The Center for Rural Development. The event, in a Somerset-Pulaski County Chamb-er of Commerce “Business After Hours” format, will begin at 6 p.m. and the public, elected officials and candidates for public office are urged to attend.
Luke B. Schmidt, president of Louisville-based consulting firm L.B. Schmidt & Associates, LLC, will make a formal presentation on the study's findings, according to Brook Ping, chair of Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU), a group of about 150 local business and community leaders.
None of the study’s findings has been released up to now. However, a news release from SPCU said a broad base of the study includes an analysis of existing governmental structures in Pulaski County, an examination of select community unified government structures in the United States and an overview of how to form unified governments in Kentucky and Pulaski County.
SPCU has emphasized from the onset that the $35,000 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.
  Ping pointed out that unification, if approved by voters, is a slow-moving procedure. He estimated it would take at least four years.
  “Lots of questions have been raised about unified government and what it might mean to the community,” said Schmidt. “Our presentation will begin to answer these questions with real data about the current form of government in Pulaski County, contrasted with how communities with unified governments operate. Clearly, opportunities exist to take Pulaski County's good government and perhaps make it even better,” he commented.
  Unifying governments requires several steps and the law is designed to make it difficult to merge in order to ensure considerable thought goes into developing the formal plan of unified government (also known as the charter), Schmidt stated. 
  Schmidt at the chamber forum will address what happens if merger occurs, including status of jobs currently held by public workers; what impact does merger have on the sale of alcoholic beverages, school districts and utilities; and, will tax rates go up or down?
  “The most important thing for everyone to keep in mind at this point is that unified government, if it does indeed occur, is a long way down the road,” Schmidt repeated.  “In the end, only voters, not SPCU nor locally elected officials, can approve or reject unification,” he emphasized.
  “For now, we invite everyone in the community - the general public, elected officials and potential future candidates for public office to join us at The Center as we embark on what most likely will be an extensive community dialogue on the future of local government in Pulaski County,” Schmidt concluded.
 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.
  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.