Newberry, Jones Discuss Merger
By Candice Freeland
PADUCAH, KY - Bill Jones began the discussion by saying that the "certainty of today" makes people want to keep things the way they are, whether it's what's best for the community or not.
This was the beginning of a forum Thursday night regarding a proposed merger of Paducah and McCracken County governments. The meeting took place at Republican headquarters in Paducah. A group of about thirty citizens gathered to hear from Jones, of US Bank, and Van Newberry, McCracken County Judge Executive.
Jones is among those in favor of a government merger between Paducah and McCracken County.
He said that growth here is seriously lagging behind the rest of the commonwealth, pointing to jobs and a negligible population increase in the last ten years. Jones addressed the inevitable closing of USEC, and asked, "...if we keep doing what we're doing, will that mean success?"
Jones said that "something different" needs to happen if there is to be economic development and financial responsibility in Paducah and McCracken County, noting that 70% of the city of Paducah's revenue comes from payroll taxes. Jones pointed out that many people who live in the county work in the city and pay those taxes, so they should have a say in how that money is spent.
One audience member suggested that the merger is simply a way for county residents to pay off the city's debt, which stands at around $30 million. The county debt is around $19 million.
Another audience member reminded Jones that the city has been wanting to merge for more than twenty years, adding that she's against it for the very issue he had been discussing - finances.
The woman asked Jones, "Why does the city continue to spend money on things that have nothing to do with jobs? Why did you buy the Executive Inn? It was going up for auction." She questioned the wisdom of funding the newly-finished dog park, and the mobile meeting center, or as it was referred to at the forum, "the bubble."
Jones said to her, "You're making my argument."
The woman said, "No I'm not, because I don't trust what the city does with money."
McCracken County Judge Executive Van Newberry said that, during the more than two-year merger study period, a variety of people were brought in to the meetings to offer their experiences and advice, including Lexington mayor Foster Pettit. He said Pettit told the group that a merger would not create jobs.
He also said there are simply too many ordinances in the city.
"...You wanna paint your porch, you gotta get a permit. In the county, we don't care. Go ahead and paint your porch."
Newberry said that taxes are so high in Paducah that it drives businesses away.
"A merger isn't gonna make Target come here. They couldn't care less." He said that's due not only to taxes, but population decline in the city, and other issues as well.
Jones pointed out that there would be a five-year moratorium on taxes if the merger passes, and that law enforcement and schools would not be affected.
An audience member asked Newberry what it would take for him to be in favor of a merger.
He said he could be in favor of a merger "if you can come up with a plan that will improve service, lower my taxes, and have better representation."
Jones said a merger is the way to do that, and that, "I believe voters will make the right choice."
An audience member responded by saying, "We did. That's why he (Newberry) is in office."
The proposed merger will be decided by voters on November 6.