Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The article below appeared in Friday's Charleston Daily Mail. Charleston Area Alliance officials were among those visiting Louisville to learn more about the many ways metro government could be implemented.

Local officials learn about Ky. merger of governments

by Matthew Thompson
Daily Mail staff

LOUISVILLE -- Officials representing Kanawha County towns and cities and county government itself are getting a first-hand look at a metro government success story.

A couple of dozen of them are on a two-day trip to learn more about metro government, which has been a controversial topic in Kanawha County for decades.

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson greeted the West Virginia contingent Thursday and held forth at a question-and-answer session.

"In the word 'community' is the word 'unity,' " Abramson said. "We have to remind each other that we have more in common with each other than that which separates us."

Under metro government, cities and counties merge services. Not only does streamlining save money, but also the combined areas are in position to take advantage of federal grants available only to larger cities.

Louisville merged in 2000 with Jefferson County. It took 40 years and four tries at the polls before voters approved the proposal by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Abramson described how libraries, emergency and other government services were merged to create efficiencies.

"I felt like Noah," Abramson said. "I had two of everything."

A $6 million savings resulted from having a combined fleet of vehicles and $800,000 was saved by consolidating banking services.

Prior to the merger in 2000, Louisville had a mayor and 12-member board of aldermen. The county had a judge-executive and three commissioners.

Now the area has a Metro Mayor and a 26-member Metro Council.

Before the merger, Louisville covered 60 square miles. It had a population of 256,000, making it the 67th largest city in the nation.

Now it's the 16th largest, with 694,000 people and 386 square miles.

Kanawha County has three county commissioners, and Charleston has a mayor and a 27-member City Council.

County Commissioner Kent Carper said he wants the public to vote on the issue soon.
But he would like to have the full support of all mayors in the county and have public meetings to inform people thoroughly.

"You don't want to do it too quickly," Carper said. "We need a definitive plan of what we are going to do and what it will all mean and then we can tell people the truth."

Abramson said the business community, including the city's Chamber of Commerce, was the main financial force behind the metro government campaign.

They spent about $1.2 million on advertising.

Carper said the Charleston Area Alliance has already agreed to make metro government a top priority and help raise funds.

The alliance is the county's economic development arm.

Carper said it would take about $500,000 to fund a local metro campaign and he doesn't want to use taxpayers' money.

"It's a political campaign and I will not support using public money for a political campaign," Carper said. "You can call it an educational campaign, you can call it informational, but it's a political campaign. The business community needs to indicate this is a critical thing to do and they need to pay for it."

Carper said the business community needs to develop a hook for the campaign, using Louisville as an example.

"It needs to have a sensible theme," Carper said. "They need to remind people we are losing jobs, we're losing population. If you believe in consolidation of government, less government and less taxes, you need to go no farther than Louisville."

Commissioner Dave Hardy requested financial records from the Louisville effort.

"We need to look at how they raised their money and how they spent it," Hardy said.
Abramson said he regretted not making the metro government a non-partisan governing body.
"Many people changed because of the politics," Abramson said. "That's the biggest mistake we made."

Hardy said he was intrigued by that comment.

"I had not even considered that notion," Hardy said. "We do that with the school board, but I was surprised with all the advice the mayor had that's the one thing he regretted."

Hardy said also that the mayors in the county need to support the issue in order for it to be successful.

"If the mayors don't buy into this, then their councils won't buy into it and we can't get an election passed," Hardy said. "There's no question the mayors have to embrace the concept."
Carper said he's optimistic the trip will be a catalyst for bringing about metro government in Kanawha County.

"I can not imagine the average taxpayer in Kanawha County being against this, if they fully understand how it works," Carper said. "It works well."


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