Mayor Alan Keck threw in the towel this week on his annexation plans, and, whether it be good or bad, the results follow a pattern that has existed in this community since Somerset was first settled in 1798 by Thomas Hansford.
There are two things Pulaski countians who live outside the corporate boundaries of Somerset have never wanted: To be taken over (annexed) by the city, and planning and zoning in rural areas.
Somerset and Pulaski County folks don't necessarily like to be called mountaineers even though one can look east and see rising foothills of the Cumberlands. However, most Pulaski countians tend to have a mountaineer's trait of "Don't Tread On Me."
There always has been and probably always will be a mental barrier between city and county residents. That doesn't mean city and county residents don't love and respect each other. They do. But don't you (Somerset) dare try to tell us what to do with our property and I don't want to pay your high taxes are messages molded in the being of rural folks.
Somerset has not always been diplomatic in its dealings with the county. Before the county had fire departments in practically every community, Somerset charged $250 for its fire trucks to go outside the city limits. The city's reasoning, and it made sense; Somerset's taxpayers could not afford fire protection for the entire county.
But the city's policy had a public relations cost. Somebody had to put up $250 before city fire trucks left the station. Meantime, while trying to find somebody willing to fork over $250, a princely sum in those days, a fire in the county roared out of control as neighborhood residents formed an ineffective bucket brigade. A horrible highlight of all this was a fire in West Somerset burned several structures while fire trucks from Somerset stood at the city boundary and watched.
Somerset has threatened to bulldoze away Fountain Square, property the courts said belongs to the county, and the city has spent thousands on plans to make the square area a pedestrian friendly oasis, minus traffic problems. The county is happy with the square. After all, roads around the square are paved. a focus of county judges and magistrates.
Several years ago, a former mayor announced an annexation plan similar to Keck's that would have taken in a large area around the existing corporate limits. That plan created a furious reaction. There were charges of blackmail, a lawsuit, threats of violence, a reporter's old-time press camera and flash bulbs were objects of destruction and the mayor temporarily announced his resignation.
Keck's plan, proposed about three weeks ago and abandoned earlier this week, apparently left city and county folks still speaking to one another.
Some few years ago, there was an annexation frenzy; Somerset, Burnside, Ferguson and Science Hill annexed highway corridors extending from their cities. Corridor annexation is illegal according to state law, but nobody lives on a highway corridor and so there is nobody with standing to legally protest the annexation. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has been quoted as saying annexation doesn't affect the status of highways, and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn't object when Burnside annexed Corps property along Lake Cumberland to get to Lee's Ford Resort & Marina and Pulaski County Park.
Eubank has not been prone to annex because the late Frey Todd, Eubank's long-time mayor, said when folks are annexed they expect city services which Todd said Eubank couldn't afford.
Although Pulaski Fiscal Court could impose planning and zoning outside Somerset city limits, it has never happened and probably never will. The very mention of planning and zoning (restrictions on how property can be used) inflames residents in rural areas. Opposition to planning and zoning was a passion of the late magistrate J. Frank Harris. He would spread the word a farmer would not be allowed to build a barn on his place if planning and zoning were to take place. Harris' message took root and planning and zoning outside the city is still a no-no.
Despite reluctance by unincorporated areas to embrace annexation and planning and zoning, Somerset and its stable population of 11,423 has been blessed with an influx of tourists and shoppers. Somerset Water Service, providing potable water to associations and districts, serves more than 100,000 residents. A big-city-like medical complex draws sick folks and their families from a wide area. Somerset's shopping district has exploded and is still exploding along busy U.S. 27.
Although a small city according to the census, Somerset remains Queen City of the Cumberlands, and sometimes it is called the "Growingest City in Southeastern Kentucky."