While Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley is able to see the kind of growth for the City of Somerset that its mayor, Alan Keck, is trying to realize through annexation, Kelley is ultimately among those with reservations about the plans, according to a statement he gave to the Commonwealth Journal on Wednesday.
"After weighing the pros and cons of annexation, specifically non-consensual annexation, I am not convinced that it is in our county's best interest," said Kelley. "And I am convinced that some will lose at the expense of others. This shouldn't be. We can all move forward together on our current path."
While Kelley didn't address Somerset's annexation ideas during the special-called meeting of the Pulaski County Fiscal Court meeting Wednesday, he did submit a statement on the matter following the meeting.
Kelley was largely complimentary of Keck's "bold vision" for expanding the city's population by taking in unincorporated parts of Pulaski County. Keck has pitched the idea that residents of these areas could benefit from the city's police and fire coverage, and that it would not affect school districting. It is unclear whether or not the city would have the ability to provide other utility services, such as sewer or gas.
The Judge-Executive said that the area is "on the verge of an economic awakening here like we've never seen before" and Pulaski could become the "clean and undisputed" economic gem of the region. However, "growth brings with it new challenges," he added, and the balancing act between costs of services and limited government reach is likely to cause "friction" in the community.
"The keys to sustainable growth are trust, managed expectations, and fair and equitable treatment to all involved," noted Kelley. "... (Keck) is certainly forward thinking ... He is very transparent, so he deserves our trust. He is doing his best to educate the public and thereby manage our expectations. ... I believe the third point is the most important and the one that is missing.
"If this annexation is successful, there will be winners and losers," he continued. "Many people have worked very hard to achieve their dreams of becoming property owners in areas where there is limited government. My heart would break for those individuals who would surrender what they worked so hard to achieve."
Concerns have been expressed that being in the city could mean paying more in taxes for county residents, and whether or not restrictive city policies (such as shooting firearms on one's property) would apply to residents currently living outside city limits.
Kelley is also concerned about the impact annexation would have on his own government.
"As your Judge Executive, I can confidently say that county finances would be adversely affected, and 'stable' government services would be disrupted," he said. "We depend heavily on occupational tax revenues, insurance premium taxes, and state road funds to provide every county service available. Our volunteer fire departments would suffer, our smaller municipalities (such as Science Hill, Burnside, Ferguson and Eubank) would suffer, our county parks would suffer, our first responders would suffer, the list is long. I cannot support this idea of non-consensual annexation primarily for these reasons."
Regardless of disagreement on the issue, Kelley urged citizens to "love one another, be forgiving of one another, and purposefully build one another up rather than tear one another down."