Somerset Mayor Alan Keck offered the most comprehensive information to date about his plan to increase the city's population through annexation during a Facebook Live stream held Tuesday night.
Among the details put forward - possible annexation areas, pros and cons for residents in those areas, potential costs - Keck stated that he didn't see this as a "takeover" or a "power grab" from the city.
"I don't view this as forced (annexation), because the people that we annex would have an option to opt out. Not home by home. … This, by rule or law, would be called nonconsensual annexation," Keck said.
He explained that within specific areas, residents as a whole would have a course in which to prevent being annexed.
"People within the annexation zone, if you will, have 60 days to form a petition and say 'We don't want this.' And so, if 55 percent of those sign that petition, then it would go to a ballot, where everyone would actually vote, like an election, on if they wanted it or not. So, it's not forced. I could make the argument that it's twice as hard, literally, to get everybody in than to stop it. If this really is so burdensome, I would say, get a petition and say you don't want it."
Keck said the areas he is looking at are those inside the Ky. 914 ring that are not already incorporated, Ky. 39 to around the Eagle's Nest area, Ky. 1247, the Parkers Mill Road area and subdivisions, the Slate Branch Community/Ferry Road area and what Keck called the Patterson Branch bubble.
(In previous conversations, Keck has mentioned Oak Hill Road as a specific area as well.)
Essentially, areas that have a "Somerset" address but are not within the city limits.
Keck said that he is specifically staying away from areas already incorporated - no Burnside, Ferguson or Science Hill lands - and will not be branching out as far as Nancy or Eubank.
Keck admitted that this would be a 20- to 30-year project, and that his term as mayor may not extend that long.
He also said he wanted to make clear, as he has said in the past, that no school district boundaries would be affected.
"No new school taxes, no school changes. This doesn't have anything to do with school districts. That's a discussion for different folks and a different time," Keck said.
He reiterated, too, that he plans on holding town hall meetings in the future to listen to residents and answer any questions or concerns.
He used the social media platform to address several questions that he said he already has heard, including what pros and cons property owners could face.
"The only real negative that I see is that those folks who live in unincorporated Somerset who will be coming into the city limits will have a new tax bill," Keck said.
"This is not a tax increase. There's no rate change, but they would then get a property tax assessment from the city of Somerset. The cost of that assessment is $130 per $100,000 of assessment.
"Now, for certain farmers or agricultural folks, there are opportunities for discounts, but let's just focus on residential folks right now. … at an average home value of $150,000 you're talking at about $180 to $200 in property taxes."
Keck then countered that many homeowners would see reduced costs elsewhere, such as being within a full-time fire department district could lower insurance premiums. Also, residents who are outside the city limits but receive utility services from the city like water or natural gas would see their bills reduced because they would be paying city-rate pricing instead of the higher county rate.
Some residents may also see a reduction in sanitation bills, depending on how far services are extended.
He added in as a positive, too, that a city assessment means property values will go up.
Plus, should the city's population increase from the current 12,000 to around 15,000, Keck said the city's bonding capacity doubles, which in turn means more money to invest in repairing or adding infrastructure - such as natural gas or sewer lines.
"If we are able to continue to invest in our infrastructure, and we do grow the city limits, and we do raise our clout statewide and regionally, then property values are going to go up. So I think the net cost is going to be very minimal. We're talking about a couple of cups of coffee a month."
A larger city tax base would also mean improved emergency services coverage. Firstly, in the form of the city's full-time fire department, with Keck pausing to thank the members of the volunteer departments that currently cover those areas.
He promised to meet with those firefighters. "I recognize that this could be impactful for you, and we don't want this to harm any of those volunteer fire departments."
Keck also addressed police services, and offered reasons for why it would benefit residents to fall under the umbrella of the city as opposed to being covered by the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office.
"We live in the third largest county, by land, in the state of Kentucky, and, especially in the evenings, the Sheriff's office can't stay staffed to support it all," Keck said.
"They're doing a tremendous job, and Sheriff [Greg] Speck's working hard and doing a great job, but again, there's only so much you can do with staff and budget restraints. And so at night, if you've got deputies at certain parts of the county and you have a call in another part of the county, it's going to be challenging. So, this enhanced police protection can be a real benefit for situations like that."