Unified Government: Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is unified government?

Unified government is a government which has been created through the unification (or, merger) of two or more units of local government.

2) Is unified local government allowed by law in Kentucky?

Yes, at present, there are three types of unified local government which are allowed by law in Kentucky, including:

  • Urban County Government
  • Consolidated Local Government
  • Unified Local Government

3) What are the differences between the three?

Urban County Government is the structure used in Lexington and when it was implemented in the 1970s resulted in the complete consolidation of the “old” city of Lexington and Fayette County into a completely unified Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government – a completely new jurisdiction which lies within the old boundaries of Fayette County and resulted in “one of everything” in terms of government departments and services.

Consolidated Local Government was used by the “old” city of Louisville and Jefferson County to create the new Louisville-Jefferson County Metropolitan Government (also known as Louisville Metro). This approach allowed the city to consolidate with the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County. It also allows the 70 + incorporated suburban communities (such as St. Matthews, Jeffersontown, etc.) to merge with Louisville Metro if they choose to (or, they can remain free-standing, intact cities). This statute requires the existence of a pre-existing First Class city (because Louisville is the only First Class city in Kentucky, Jefferson County is the only community which can use this statute for unification purposes).

Unified Local Government was created by statute in 2006 and has not yet been used by any jurisdiction in the state. It is very similar to the Consolidated Local Government discussed above; however, it does not require the pre-existence of a First Class city.

4) Which form of unified government is HCU recommending to the community?

After conducting a year-long examination of the issue of unified local government, HCU believes that the Unified Local Government concept offers the best approach for the community.

5) Why is HCU making this recommendation?

Unified Local Government offers Hardin County flexibility. Here’s how it works. At a minimum, Hardin County Government would unify with at least the City of Elizabethtown and/or the City of Radcliff (you have to have County government and at least one of the two largest cities combine to make this work). Ideally, Hardin County Government will unify with all six city governments (Elizabethtown, Radcliff, Sonora, Upton, Vine Grove and West Point).

However, unification might not be for everyone. Therefore, by using the Unified Local Government approach, if the citizens in one of the cities prefer to remain free-standing, they can.

6) How is Unified Local Government implemented?

State law provides a pathway for forming a unified local government.

First, an ordinance is introduced and considered by each of the local government jurisdictions that are candidates for unification (county government and the city governments). The ordinance is simple and very straightforward and creates a Unification Review Commission.

Second, upon passage, each jurisdiction appoints citizens to serve on the Unification Review Commission.

Third, the Unification Review Commission will hold several meetings (really public hearings) over a several month period during which the Commission members will actually draft a plan (also known as a Charter) for what the new unified government will look like.

Fourth, once the plan has been completed, it will be submitted to the voters for approval.

7) If my city council votes to approve the ordinance creating the Unification Review Commission, does that mean that they are voting for merger and it’s a done deal?

Absolutely not! What it means is that your city council wants your city to have a place at the table as the unification plan is developed – to help shape it. In the end, the voters will vote to approve the plan. Voters (citizens) have the only say in the end as to whether the community unifies or not.

8) Is there a downside to my city council voting NO on the ordinance?

Absolutely! By voting NO, your city will not have any input at all as to how the unification plan will be developed. More importantly, when the unification plan is presented to the voters, the plan will include all jurisdictions that approved the ordinance. Only those communities that participated will have the opportunity to be part of the new unified community.

9) What does this really mean?

Let’s use Vine Grove as the hypothetical example here. Let’s assume that Hardin County Fiscal Court and the city councils of all of the cities, with the exception of Vine Grove, approve the ordinance to create the Unification Review Commission.

When the Commission is appointed, Vine Grove will not be allowed to appoint any members. As the plan is developed, it will be developed to include the county and the other five cities. Whatever benefits that are identified to come as a result of unification will not include the City of Vine Grove. If the voters approve the plan, Vine Grove will remain a free-standing city while the other jurisdictions will reap the benefits of merger.

10) If the community unifies, does that mean that the schools will also merge?

No! This issue pertains to local government only. Existing school districts will remain intact, as will existing utilities.

11) What are the benefits to unified local government?

HCU believes that there are four primary benefits to unified local government, including:

  • The ability for the community to speak with one voice and more efficiently target grants and appropriations which will benefit the entire community while improving the community’s standing and stature in Frankfort and Washington, D.C.,
  • The attainment of a new level of clout that will assist the entire community with economic development, the creation of new jobs and which will create Kentucky’s third largest community,
  • Streamlined government which will result in the more efficient delivery of government services to all citizens which will result in a reduced rate of increase in the cost to provide public services over time, and,
  • The achievement of economies of scale which will result in the more efficient use of public resources (tax dollars)

12) Will my taxes go up?

Most likely not. However, issues such as taxes will be considered and decided upon by the Unification Review Commission as it develops its plan (which will be subject to voter approval).

13) I live in Radcliff. If the community unifies, will I have to pay the restaurant tax to support the Elizabethtown Sports Park?

No! Upon implementation of unification, all existing taxing districts will remain in place. The restaurant tax will continue to be collected, only within the “old” boundaries of the City of Elizabethtown

14) My brother works for the Planning Department in Elizabethtown. Will he lose his job as the result of unification?

Again, the Unification Review Commission will develop a plan which will outline what kinds of departments will be required in order to “run” the new unified government. HCU’s examination of five unified governments in Georgia and Kentucky highlighted the fact that no public workers lost their jobs as the result of unification.

Organizational “right-sizing” generally occurred within the first three years of unification through job reassignments, retirements and normal attrition. No layoffs occurred as the result of unification.

15) Will my level of government services go up or down?

Generally speaking, your level of services will stay the same; however, in some areas, they might be increased. This will be addressed by the Unification Review Commission.

16) I live in White Mills and I have been following the wet/dry vote which will be coming up in October in Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Vine Grove.  If any or all three of these cities vote “wet” in the election, and, the community ultimately unifies, does that mean that all of Hardin County will become “wet?”

No!  Under Kentucky law, areas can become “wet” only through a local option election.  Unification does not change that.  If any or all three of the cities vote “wet,” then upon unification, only those areas that voted “wet” will stay “wet.”  This will be determined, geographically speaking, by precinct.

17) Who will run the new unified local government?

Again, this will be up to the Unification Review Commission (with ultimate approval coming from the voters).

HCU envisions a unified local government that includes a strong executive branch and a strong legislative branch. The legislative branch would include representatives elected from a specific geographic district and representatives elected on an at-large basis (but required to live in specific areas).

The net result would be that each citizen would vote for three directly elected representatives: “metro” mayor, “metro” council member (geographic) and “metro” council member (at-large).

18) How can I learn more about unified local government in Hardin County?

HCU encourages you to attend the Community Forum which will be held at the Hardin County Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School (384 W.A. Jenkins Road, Elizabethtown) on Thursday, August 4th, beginning at 4:30 PM EDT. HCU also plans several “neighborhood” forums in the next few weeks.

Finally, be sure and visit the HCU Web site (www.hardincountyunited.com) for more detailed information and periodic updates.

19) How can I make sure my community is involved in the process?

Be sure and contact the county judge/executive, your fiscal court magistrate, your mayor, and your city council members (remember to contact all of them) and encourage them to pass the ordinance creating the Unification Review Commission to ensure that your community has a seat at the table and that you have an opportunity to vote on this issue!

20) When it comes time for the voters to approve the plan, what happens?

HCU envisions that the Unification Review Commission will complete its work and the plan that the Commission develops will be presented for approval by the voters in November 2012. The plan will require that a majority of voters approve it in each jurisdiction. For example, if Hardin County voters, along with voters in five of the six cities vote YES, then unified government will take place in each jurisdiction with the exception of the community which voted NO (it remains a free-standing community as before and does not get any of the advantages of unified government).

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