Williams Outlines Benefits of City-County Merger
By WestKyStar Staff
PADUCAH, KY - As the debate on a proposed city-county merger continues, a proponent of the idea spoke about the issue Wednesday on WKYX.
John Williams, Jr. was a member of the 20-person Merger Council, which studied the issue for the past three years, writing the charter that voters will approve or reject on Election Day. Williams outlined his pro-merger viewpoint on the Greg Dunker Show.
Williams says there are several key issues, but the first is population growth. Over the last 10 years, McCracken County's population has grown less than .1% per year, and over the last 20 years it is .2%. This affects taxes, because if population growth (and tax revenue) don't increase with the cost of living, the same amount of services next year would cost more per taxpayer.
For comparison, the population of most of Kentucky has grown at 7.5% (excluding extreme eastern KY), and the the U.S. has grown at 9.5% since 2002.
Williams says merging the city and county would make the area more attractive to new business, bringing jobs and population growth. He explains that businesses would prefer a merged Paducah-McCracken County because employers would only have to go through one government to get incentives or to work through how to bring in new jobs. Also, he says businesses would notice our area quicker when looking at population data.
"Instead of one of more than hundreds of communities of our size, it will make us one of three in the United States of this type. In the Commonwealth of Kentucky - we're currently number 15 and falling - it will put us at number 3 and rising," Williams said.
Williams said another issue is tax fairness. The combined county-wide budget is just over $54 million, but more than 50% of the city's budget comes from county residents (payroll taxes, etc.). Statistics show 80% of people who work in the city don't live there, and the city has 61% of jobs but only 39% of the people. He says the tax burden has shifted even more in recent history.
"Over the last 15 years the city has increased the burden on the non-residents by raising the payroll tax by a third, and dropping property taxes by 43%."
While tax rates in the city and county would stay different, due to the types of services received, there would be much more accountability to county residents in the new plan.
The third issue Williams emphasized was representation. He points out that with at-large commissioners, those living southeast of Burger Road and Walnut Drive don't have a neighbor as a representative, and only two elected officials live beyond I-24.
"Part of what we've got to do is get away from is the at-large representation, into district representation, where your neighbors are being able to elect someone to represent their area. You end up with a much broader representation, and you retain the rural/urban mix of McCracken County that I think is pretty important," Williams said.
When asked why county voters should support it, instead of feeling like they're rescuing the city's budget, Williams says everyone needs the growth, and we are a collective community as far as jobs and growth are concerned.
"If we don't create something to bring in jobs, our cost per taxpayer goes up just by the arithmetic - it has been for more than twenty years. All we are getting is negative growth, and our families move away."
To clarify a question raised by listeners of WKYX and readers of WestKentuckyStar.com, Williams said the voters will approve or reject a Charter document, which spells out how everything would work (representation, terms, limits, authority, etc.). He says voters are not deciding on an idea, they are choosing from two specific types of government. If voters choose to merge, Williams said the Charter cannot be changed before it goes into effect on January 1, 2015.