Unification Back On the Table

Hardin County United to resume efforts to form commission this month

By Marty Finley Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 1:36 am (Updated: June 3, 9:45 am)

The call for a unification review commission may have been quiet in recent months, but Hardin County United is ready to resume its push.

After successfully lobbying for changes in state law regarding approval requirements for unified city/county government, HCU officials plan to reconnect with the seven local municipalities. Its goal is to secure support for forming a commission and appointing members to draft a unification plan and charter to be presented to voters by November 2014.

No dates have been scheduled, but Ken Howard, chairman of the HCU governance subcommittee, said he believes it will try to start scheduling meetings this month — beginning with Hardin Fiscal Court.

A unified local government in Kentucky requires participation of the county.

“It just makes logical sense to start with Fiscal Court,” Howard said.

Luke Schmidt, a consultant for HCU, said officials will approach the county and six cities with a short update on the merits of unification. The organization argues it would allow the county to leverage the size of its population to improve its profile at state and national levels, boosting its competitiveness in the global economy.

Howard and Schmidt also have argued a unified government would streamline government functions by eliminating duplicate  services.
Schmidt said HCU plans to update officials on changes in state law and how those would affect Hardin County.

“We want to make sure they understand the ramifications of it,” Schmidt said.

Several local officials, Hardin Fiscal Court in particular, were reluctant to form a commission when first approached by HCU because of ambiguity surrounding sovereignty of a city’s vote. HCU suspended its campaign to ensure a city would not be dissolved into a unified government if a majority of its residents voted against a unification charter.

County legislators, led by Rep. Jimmie Lee and Sen. Dennis Parrett, introduced new language to the Kentucky General Assembly, which moved through the general session with unanimous support.

Howard said the changes in state law put old concerns to rest but also provide Kentucky a better piece of legislation because the new law includes a safeguard that is fair to everyone. Howard said if unincorporated portions of the county reject unification during a referendum, the unification plan would fail to pass.

“I think that’s really important,” he said. “It can’t be pockets of support.”

Schmidt and Howard said HCU also plans to create an online presence to provide residents an avenue to share opinions on unification with elected officials.

If cities are open to the idea, HCU will propose ordinances to create a commission and appoint members. Inclusion in the commission does not lead to a merger, Schmidt said, because voters must decide on unification at the polls.
Howard said HCU hopes to have a commission in place to allow plenty of time for members to work on a plan before the 2014 election. A plan can take one to two years to put together, depending on the community.

“There is a large amount of work that needs to be done to put a plan together,” Schmidt said.
But Schmidt argued the commission’s formal deliberations are the only way to know what a unified structure in Hardin County would look like. During the first push for unification, residents asked a slew of questions, wondering how taxes would be structured and public safety impacted by a unified government.

“All good questions,” Schmidt said. “But we can’t answer them because we don’t have the commission.”

Radcliff Councilman Edward Palmer attended a recent HCU meeting and said he wants Radcliff to hold its own forums on unification to gather input. Radcliff is the only city in the county to formally opt out of the commission and Palmer said he did not want HCU to be able to use the city’s decision as firepower when arguing for unification.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762.

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