Cities-county consolidation bill passes Senate

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HB 189 receives no negative votes

By Ben Sheroan

A bill designed to revise state laws regarding merger of municipal and county governments unanimously passed the state Senate on Monday.

House Bill 189 previously passed the state House, 93-0, but must return there so a Senate amendment can be affirmed.

Hardin County United, a volunteer organization that championed discussion of consolidated government locally, encouraged development of the bill to clarify how vote totals would be considered.

The bill ensures if voters of any city reject the idea, that municipality would remain independent of the unified government. It also gives the same consideration for the vote total of unincorporated portions of the county.

Other components of the bill were added at the request of other Kentucky communities considering a form of consolidated government and to win support of interested organizations such as the Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, said those additions should have no impact on Hardin County’s plans.

For example, one provision delays implementation until January of 2013 so as not to disrupt a pending vote in Paducah and McCracken County.

Judge-Executive Harry Berry, who also is HCU’s chairman, said he doesn’t expect any immediate local action because a voter referendum could not be scheduled before 2014.

State law requires consolidated government votes to be conducted during a November general election and Kentucky has no election cycle in 2013.

Local officials had encouraged changes in the state law before considering establishment of a commission to draft a plan for unified government that voters would be asked to consider. Any change ultimately requires voter approval in a referendum.

The bill as approved also requires a majority vote to carry countywide to approve the consolidation plan. The largest city in the county — in this case, Elizabethtown — must be a participant or municipalities with a population accounting for a least half of the county’s residents.

State Sen. Dennis Parrett, who supported the bill in the Senate, said he will work locally to ensure any talks of consolidation include both Elizabethtown and Radcliff because the county’s metro area includes two cities of similar size.

Parrett said he considered anything less to be “a disaster waiting to happen.”

Radcliff City Council is on the record as opposing consolidation. The process for establishing a commission to draft a merger proposal requires Fiscal Court and any interested city government to approve participation ordinances that establish a commission to draft a plan for voter consideration.

Parrett said he was “quite pleased” the bill was approved without dissent.

Berry said the bill’s passage through both chambers of the General Assembly without a single no vote supports one of his principal arguments.

“The unanimous vote does speak well of it,” he said. “It goes back to a point I have made all along, we’re letting the voters decide.”

Ben Sheroan can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.