Officials to answer questions at forum

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Reclassification, merger of local governments expected to be on agenda

By Molly Haines

The merging of county and city government and the reclassification of the City of Owenton will be the topics of discussion at a public forum hosted by the Owen County Chamber of Commerce March 25.
Owen County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Frank Downing said although the chamber has no position on the issues, it’s time for citizens to become aware of the facts.
The chamber’s board of directors has invited several speakers to the forum, including representatives from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office, as well as the Kentucky Association of Counties.
Downing said legislature approved material in the early 1990s for “charter counties,” which allows for counties and cities to merge, with the county being the “dominate player” in a charter county.
About 10 years ago, Downing said participants in Leadership Owen County heard discussions on charter counties, but the topic hadn’t been discussed much since then.
According to state law, the fiscal court may adopt an ordinance to study the question of merging the county government with all other units of local government within the county to form a charter county form of government.
A petition can also be filed with the county clerk requesting the appointment of a commission to study the question of the adoption of a charter county form in lieu of an ordinance.
The petition would have to be signed by a number of registered voters equal to at least 20 percent of the residents in the unincorporated area of the county voting in the preceding regular election and 20 percent of the residents in incorporated areas of the county voting in the preceding regular election.
Within 60 days of the adoption of an ordinance or within 60 days of a petition being filed with the county clerk, the fiscal court and the city legislative body of each city within the county would jointly appoint a commission to study the question of the adoption of a charter county form of government.
Downing said no county in the state of Kentucky has gone the route of becoming a charter county and there are no plans for Owen County to become a charter county at present time.
“The next step (after the public forum) would be for the cities and county to decide if they want to pursue any of the information that comes out of the forum,” Downing said. “If none of the mayors want to participate, I presume it would be a dead issue.”
If Owen County were to become a charter county at any point in the future, Downing said it would include all legislative bodies within the county – including Owen County, the City of Owenton, Monterey, Gratz and Sparta.
Downing said the reclassification of the City of Owenton has been a popular topic in recent months and he is hopeful that the forum will clear up any rumors regarding the issue.
“The subject of (Owenton becoming a fourth-class city) was introduced three years ago and has been on the burner and off the burner quite a bit,” Downing said. “The chamber board felt like it was time to get the facts, pro and con, out to the people.”
To become a fourth-class city a resolution would need to be approved by the Kentucky General Assembly.
The reclassification of a city is usually based on population, but some cities within recent years have been reclassified without meeting the population requirement.
According to a “Kentucky League of Cities Research Report” on the classification of cities, a fourth-class city has a population requirement of 3,000 to 7,999.
In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau listed Owenton’s population as 1,327.
According to state law a fourth-class city can have one liquor package license for every 2,300 residents in the county and one retail drink license for every 2,500 residents in the county.
Downing said he would encourage citizens to attend the public forum, which is set for 7 p.m., March 25, in the Owen County High School auditorium.
“With all the rumors going around in the community, we want to get the facts out there for people so they can make up their own minds,” Downing said. “We’ve asked the speakers to be prepared to speak on the pros and cons of the both issues.”