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Simple solution 20 years in making

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Editorial: Jan. 2, 2014

ISSUE: City classification system
OUR VIEW: Proposed reorganization makes sense

It has been 20 years since the state constitution was amended to drop a largely ignored requirement that city classifications be based on population. But the system continues to be used, despite the voter-approved amendment, because the General Assembly has taken no action to develop a new system in the past two decades.

Following three years of work by the City Classification Task Force and with the support of the Kentucky League of Cities, that could change in 2014.

What’s been developed is a simple system based on form of government in place.

Any city using a mayor-alderman leadership approach would be defined as first class. City manager systems will be referred to as second class and the mayor-council or mayor-commission systems would be third class. In practice, the only legal difference in second- and third-class cities would be their administrative structure with all laws being the same.

Louisville and Lexington with their metro governments would stand apart and be exempt from the ruling.

That makes perfect sense. Laws could apply based on the governmental approach and not vary based on minor population differences. It also would avoid the uncomfortable circumstance of cities, including Elizabethtown, failing to acknowledge population trends and seek reclassification because of discomfort with legal requirements that stepping up in class might create.

In effect, no one would pretend to be something that they are not.

While this is a simple in concept, nothing is ever simple in Frankfort.

The proposed bill as posted for review on the League of Cities website covers 339 pages. Shifting from six classifications levels to three and bringing in line decades of policies, practices and legal requirements is a complex undertaking.

For example, police and fire coverage, including some compensation and bargaining issues, required delicate wording to ensure nothing in the changes would force a city to diminish service to residents or benefits for existing employees. By the same token, it does not require increased standards.

In explanatory postings, the League of Cities expert explains efforts were made to avoid many controversial issues in order to finally get the reorganization outlined and hopefully win approval in this legislative session. Those hot topics, which include alcohol reforms, restaurant tax and public safety discipline processes, would be set aside for another day and separate debate.

In the art of legislation, that’s an appropriate compromise. It advances the primary issue and ensures that details in dispute can be worked out separately and each one will receive its own appropriate examination and debate.

When considering this bill, the hope here is that eventually inequities experienced between Elizabethtown and Radcliff will disappear.

Because Radcliff chose to classify itself appropriately based on population and E’town did not change, the communities have some different funding opportunities.

Elizabethtown’s 2 percent tax on prepared food brings in more than $2.4 million a year. But as a second-class city Radcliff presently is ineligible for that tax. In addition, Elizabethtown will collect both alcohol license fees and a 5 percent service charge but as a second-class city Radcliff is only eligible for the license fee. The difference: Another $773,000.

The issue locally has been frequently discussed and debated. In most of the state, this proposal is a matter of nominal public concern. Hopefully, that means political pressures will be focused elsewhere and this piece of legislation, once filed, can be move efficiently through the legislature.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.