Merger Debate Continues at St. John Picnic
By Tim Brockwell
LONE OAK, KY - Competing voices on the proposed city-county merger were heard Saturday evening at the 52nd annual St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church Picnic.
A crowd of several hundred gathered around a stage to hear both sides of the merger argument, some waving signs and cheering their respective sides of the issue. This was the latest of several recent speaking events that have brought the city-county merger to the forefront of local politics.
The coin toss, won by McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry, kicked off what would prove to be a spirited, yet respectful debate. Newberry, co-founder of the staunchly anti-merger No To Metro movement, chose to speak first. He addressed the issue of potential tax increases, which has been an area of concern for some.
“The merger plan claims there will be a moratorium on taxes for five years,” Newberry said. “Just remember this, this new government can do almost anything they want to the first day they're in office. They can declare an emergency and raise your taxes.”
Newberry also said companies looking to relocate would likely see the lowered population density resulting from a merger as a negative thing.
“If the city can claim the entire county it lowers their density,” Newberry said. “Right now the city is about 1200 per square mile. After this merger, they would be 260 per square mile. Marketing firms will look at that and say there's not many people in that area."
Pro-merger spokesman Lawrence Durbin said that growth is necessary for our community to prosper.
“Back in the 60's, Paducah was the fourth largest city in Kentucky,” Durbin said. “You know what we are now? We're Number 15, and we're falling quickly. In my opinion we need growth to sustain our quality of life.”
Durbin and other members of the merger supporting group Paducah McCracken United say the proposal will bring growth and commerce to the area.
“All past Chamber of Commerce leaders endorse the merger,” Durbin said. “If we don't grow, we don’t progress. I think we begin to get sick in a hurry if we're not growing.”
Durbin also addressed speculation that some merger commission members would receive political appointments if the merger passes.
“I've heard rumors that some members of the merger commission, including myself, will be put in charge of some of the new districts,” Durbin said. “Well, let me assure you that's not gonna happen. The new district council members have to be elected by you, the voters.”
Newberry responded to Durbin's comments concerning Paducah's lowered population status among other Kentucky cities, saying that simply merging the two governments will not be an effective solution.
"When I was in high school, just like Lawrence, I took some pride in the fact that the city of Paducah was the fourth or fifth largest city in the state," Newberry said. "Now we're 15th, and [Paducah McCracken United] think the solution is putting an asterisk by our name."
Newberry said a merger isn't necessary for the community to grow.