A former longtime public officeholder in Pulaski County and frequent adviser to members of the Republican Party says many questions need to be answered about a study under way to determine if a united city-county government would be more efficient for Pulaski County’s 63,000 residents.
Louie Floyd, who served as magistrate from the county’s 2nd District for 16 years and a five-year term as county judge-executive from 1994 to 1998, says “ ... somebody needs to sit down and say: ‘Here is exactly what it is.’”
Floyd stated emphatically he is not opposed to a different form of government in Pulaski County. He stressed at the outset that he doesn’t know enough about the study to get too deeply into it.
A conference call in which he participated with five state government officials shortly after the plan for a study was announced didn’t answer all the questions, Floyd said.
• From where would money come to advance a consolidation effort?
“I would want to know who and how many contribute money to get it passed,” Floyd remarked.
• What happens to the county judge-executive and members of fiscal court? How much authority would they retain?
• Now that Somerset has opted out of the plan, where do they go from here?
• How much would the CEO of a unified city-county government be paid? How is the CEO selected?
“I understand by statute the CEO can’t be paid less than the county judge-executive, and he or she can select an assistant. How much would the assistant be paid? That’s another cost,” Floyd observed.
• What is the difference between unified and charter county governments?
“I would like for somebody to sit down and explain the difference,” said Floyd. “I might rather try the charter county government statute.”
The study is a brainchild of Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU), a group of more than 80 citizens representing all segments of the community and chaired by Brook Ping, a local developer. They emphasize it is only a study, not a recommendation for a particular form of government.
Despite being rebuffed by Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler and Somerset City Council, the study, estimated to cost $35,000, apparently is moving ahead with an $11,667 grant from Pulaski Fiscal Court and apparently money contributed by SPCU members.
The study is expected to take about four months to complete. L.B. Schmidt, president of Louisville-based L.B. Schmidt & Associates, is consultant.
According to law, the completed study, if favorable toward a unified city-county government, would be presented to local governmental bodies.
Then, 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.
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.
Since the study was announced, Somerset has opted out of the plan and prepared to defend its existence in court, if necessary. Eubank, because its boundary extends into Lincoln County, would be prohibited by state law from participating in a unified government.
Any city can opt out of being a part of a unified government. “That means they won’t have a seat at the table,” observed Schmidt.
A unified government would not affect school districts and existing taxing districts in the county. It would not alter boundaries of precincts and legislative districts, or change local option areas, SPCU says. No change in the form of government would occur without approval by voters of Pulaski County.
A new Somerset-Pulaski County unified government would create Kentucky’s third largest city with a population of 63,700. It would be the first unified government of its kind in Kentucky.
A question frequently asked is what effect a unified city-county government would have on constitutional offices such as county judge-executive, sheriff, jailer, county clerk and magistrate? Would their duties change? Would they continue to draw their generous salaries?
Laura Ross, legal services counsel for the Kentucky League of Cities, said it would depend on what type of unified government is established.
Under amended laws, there are two types of merged city-county governments –- charter county governments and unified local governments, Ross said. A unified local government apparently would be at the end of an optimistic study by SPCU.
Statutes for a unified local government are more detailed and stringent than for a charter county government, Ross said.
And, yes, according to Ross, all offices provided for in the Kentucky constitution and local government employees would be retained in a unified local government. Duties of constitutional officeholders could be changed but it appears they would continue to draw their constitutionally mandated salaries.
When Pulaski County’s population exceeded 60,000 in the 2010 federal census, state law changed the pay group for four elected officials and gave each an annual pay raise of about $6,800. Annual salaries for Judge-executive Barty Bullock, Sheriff Todd Wood, Jailer Mike Harris and County Clerk Ralph Troxtell increased for each from $92,412.43 to $99,312.05, effective at the beginning of their current terms. Salaries are set by law and they have to take it.
Magistrates on Pulaski Fiscal Court set their own salaries. Each of the five magistrate makes $30,000 a year in addition to $3,600 in undocumented expense money. The office of magistrate, like constable, is constitutional and can’t be abolished without a constitutional amendment.
Kentucky Revised Statues relating to charter county government has little or nothing to say about employees and positions, Ross noted.