Judge-Executive Steve Kelley

The Pulaski County Public Library isn’t exactly Camp David, but much like the famed peace talks at the presidential retreat, one local official is proposing a meeting in hopes of establishing an understanding between governments.

Steve Kelley, Pulaski County Judge-Executive, sent a letter to the Commonwealth Journal this week addressed to the public, inviting them to a special-called meeting in an effort to “build a bridge” between the City of Somerset and Pulaski County governments in their conflict over distribution of occupational tax money.

The letter was also addressed to Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler, Somerset city councilors, city attorney Carrie Wiese, city budget director Jimmy Hogg, the Pulaski County Fiscal Court, county attorney Martin Hatfield, county treasurer Joan Isaacs, and the Commonwealth Journal.

“This is an attempt to build a bridge between the City of Somerset and Pulaski County Fiscal Court,” the letter began. “Please help us in that endeavor. This effort is needed as we must work together to ensure our public is represented well by all interested parties named above.”

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 26, at 6 p.m. in the Pulaski County Public Library’s community room.

When Kelley took office in January, he inherited a longstanding battleground between the city and county governments over the county’s 1 percent payroll tax, paid by local businesses and employees. The point of contention typically revolved around the city declaring they would take a larger portion of it to help pay for expenses such as EMS, and the county government’s concerns that such a move would put a severe strain on their own ability to provide services to citizens.

Just this month, the Commonwealth Journal reported that Isaacs estimated that Somerset would get between $4 million and $4.5 million annually from an already-approved ordinance that would take 60 percent of occupational tax revenue collected within the city limits. Hogg put the number at $4.086 million annually, based on his guess of 70 percent of employees paying the tax work inside the city limits.

Kelley produced a writing published by the Commonwealth Journal last Sunday responding to the occupational tax controversy with an outline of how the revenue is distributed in the county, and stating that he found the implications of the city’s plans to take 60 percent of city generated tax “very troubling,” as he said that through coercing businesses to be annexed into the city, Somerset could “end up with as much as 80-90 percent of the entire occupational tax.”

Girdler addressed the published letter at Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting, but said he did not want to get into a public back-and-forth discussion about the occupational tax agreement because “what the county says or does is really immaterial at this point.”

“As far as getting into the multitude of accusations and insinuations in that article, I don’t really want to do that,” said Girdler on Monday. “It doesn’t serve any purpose.”

Kelley’s latest letter reads as follows after the paragraph quoted earlier in this story:

“As the occupational tax issue has been in the headlines of our local Commonwealth Journal three times this week, with three differing opinions regarding the O.T. issue, and as the Mayor called a special meeting with city officials and Joan Isaacs, Treasurer of PC Fiscal Court, describing a fourth and different plan of action, we need to eliminate the confusion that exists.

“My desire is not that we compete with each other, but that we complement each other in our efforts to govern. With inaccurate, or incomplete information from either or both sides, our jobs are made unnecessarily more complicated. Strained budgets, plans for growth and maintenance of services, state and local legislation, and other factors have ‘muddied the waters.’ Let’s work together to clear it up for everyone’s benefit.

“I am inviting all who will make the sacrifice of about two hours of your time, to attend a meeting where we can begin repairing a bridge that appears to be in disrepair. We are not elected and/or hired to be public servants without the understanding that we are responsible to deal with and solve difficult issues.”

Kelley also listed the time and place of the meeting, and concluded, “I anticipate good representation from all interested parties.”

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