Voluntary county consolidation legislation clears House committee

02/17/2016 06:30 PM

FRANKFORT — Facing mounting financial woes lawmakers are once again considering measures to reduce the state’s financial burden by making it easier for the 120 counties in Kentucky to consolidate, which would reduce redundant positions in government.

With history and the political realities weighing against the likelihood of the passage of the legislation Rep. Adam Koenig is trying this session to update the procedure counties undertake if they choose to consolidate.

HB 161 passed the House Standing Committee on Local Government on Wednesday with a 15 to 2 vote, only Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, and Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, voted against the bill in committee.

Koenig explained counties could consolidate in his legislation by ordinance of the fiscal court, or if 20 percent of voters in the last presidential election submitted a public petition to consolidate their counties, which are changed from previous versions of the legislation.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson of Covington, said the legislation is a “common sense measure” to deal with the difficult fiscal times the nation and commonwealth face.

“In relative to local government, both city level as well as county, we have adequate tax revenue we just have too many spigots,” Simpson said. “We have duplication that we can no longer bear.”

Kentucky ranks fourth among states for the most counties, and that’s a luxury Simpson says the state can no longer afford.

However, some rural members fear county consolidation.

Rep. Meredith, voted against the measure, in part, because of his proud county heritage and the potential for more bureaucracy at the local level. The Edmonson County Republican said he thought the measure was curious that it was supported by urban legislators.

“I think this legislation sends a message, a message that I’m not willing to send,” Meredith said. “And that’s the message that we think that smaller counties should merge with each other, lose some of the power over governing themselves.”

Members in favor of the bill said that the legislation would not force any county to consolidate. For Simpson, he said he could see a scenario where the three counties that comprise northern Kentucky — Boone, Kenton and Campbell — could consolidate.

The legislation now makes its way before the full House.


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