Commonwealth Journal

June 20, 2013

Ferguson opting out of unified government

Burnside, Science Hill take wait-and-see stance

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Fergsuon —

Ferguson has joined Somerset in opting out of any possible merger of city and county governments in Pulaski County.
Melody Jones, city clerk at Ferguson, said Ferguson City Council, at its regular meeting Monday, June 3, unanimously adopted a resolution not to participate in a united city-county government.
Ferguson Mayor Allen Dobbs said the city council acted “ ... because they felt it was the right thing to do. It was their decision.” He said the resolution was verbal; that the city attorney will put it in writing.
“You never know what the outcome will be ... you just never know,” Dobbs said.
  Burnside City Council and Science Hill City Commission both are still in a wait-and-see mode. 
“Nothing has changed,” said Burn-side Mayor Ron Jones. “The study is not complete ... we’re just waiting to see what happens.”
“That’s the way we are,” said Science Hill Mayor Bill Dick. “We’ve taken no official actions.”
Existing boundaries of incorporated cities in a merged city-county government would disappear and the cities would revert to communities without governments.
Eubank, because it straddles the Pulaski-Lincoln county line, would not be eligible to be a part of a merged city-county government, according to state law.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler has shown absolutely no patience with the study currently under way to determine if merged governments in Pulaski County would be feasible and more effective.
“What part of no doesn’t he (Luke B. Schmidt) understand?” said Girdler. This was the gist of his reaction this week when asked about Schmidt’s announced plans to request a meeting with Girdler to get permission to study infrastructure and operational methods of Somerset’s government.
“I think of a southern response (to Schmidt’s request for a meeting). “Oh, how nice, but no thanks,” Girdler laughed.
Schmidt, president of L.B. Schmidt and Associates, is consultant for Somerset-Pulaski County United (SPCU)’s announced plans for a study to determine if merged city-county governments would be more efficient and feasible for Pulaski County’s more than 63,000 residents.
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.
Schmidt recently told the Commonwealth Journal he will soon request a meeting with Girdler. “I hope we can meet ... that he (Girdler) will allow us to get a good look at the city’s operation.”
“I haven’t been asked to meet (with Schmidt),” Girdler said this week. The mayor repeated his response would take a southern twang: “Oh how nice, but no thanks.”
“Does that mean you won’t meet with Schmidt?” pursued a reporter.
“Yes,” Girdler reiterated.
Highly publicized and sometimes criticized was Girdler’s negative reaction when Somerset-Pulaski County United asked Somerset to help pay for a study to determine if merged city-county governments would be efficient and feasible for Pulaski County’s more than 63,000 residents.
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.
Somerset City Council not only refused to pay anything for the study, but directed the city’s legal department to get whatever help its needs to defend Somerset’s current status in court.
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.
“We’re right at the front end of the study,” said Schmidt. “I think it is a very interesting study.”
  Schmidt said the study at this point has three goals:
(1) Do a good and thorough examination of local government infrastructure in the five incorporated cities in Pulaski County; get a good understanding of how each is organized and funded, and how they do things.
(2) Study other governmental jurisdictions that have merged; find out how it works.
 (3) Look at potential benefits of merged governments in Pulaski County.
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. Since Somerset and Ferguson have opted out, it’s not clear how this will work. Schmidt has said cities opting out won’t 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.