Wednesday, March 2, 2011

House passes bill to raise city classification

The state House passed a bill this afternoon that, if the Senate approves, would make Midway a fourth-class city and let it enforce alcoholic-beverage laws and get related fees. Because it is a fifth-class city, those rights and responsibilities now rest with the county. Versailles is a fourth-class city and manages its own alcohol affairs.

The Midway measure is in a floor amendment attached to Senate Bill 82 by Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway. It now returns to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain, though Rollins said last night, "I'm optimistic."

The amended bill passed the House 82-16, perhaps reflecting misgivings about the amendment. Reclassification bills are usually not controversial, but Midway lacks the 3,000 minimum population that the state constitution may require for a fourth-class city. Its population at the 2000 census was 1,620 and was recently estimated to be 2,019. The 2010 census figures are not yet public.

The section of the constitution that specified population ranges for classes of cities was repealed in 1994 and replaced by a section, 156A, that allows the General Assembly to "create such classifications of cities as it deems necessary based on population, tax base, form of government, geography or any other reasonable basis." But the legislature has never set up a new system, and the 1994 constitutional amendment says "The law pertaining to the classifications in effect at the time of adoption of this section shall remain in effect until otherwise provided by law."

Some legislators argue that the amendment allows them to reclassify individual cities on the basis of the criteria it mentions, but the heading of the bill prepared by legislative staff advises, "The population requirement for the classification of cities established by the former Section 156 of the Constitution remain in effect until changed by law. Therefore, classification of a city of the fourth class requires a population of 3,000 to 7,999."

The original Senate bill applied only to the city of Guthrie in Todd County, which had a census population of 1,457 and is estimated to have had 1,760 as of 2009. Senate amendments added Greensburg in Green County, pop, 2,396, estimated to have 2,544; and Junction City in Boyle County, pop. 2,184, estimated at 3,214, making it the only city of the four with the requisite population.

"I'm pretty sure Midway probably does not meet the requirements, but at the same time there are some pretty good things going on in Midway and it would be to our benefit to be a fourth-class city," Rollins said, adding that he acted at the request of Mayor Tom Bozarth and the city council. He said he agrees with those legislators who believe the legislature has inherent authority to classifiy cities as it wishes.

He acknowledged the bill could get caught up in larger issues as the legislative session ends this week. As chairman of the House Education Committee, Rollins has been a key obstacle to charter-school legislation pushed by Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. But Rollins said he was encouraged because one of his bills is to be heard tomorrow in the Senate State and Local Government Committee, headed by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Thayer has added Midway and another city to a reclassification bill that originated in the House.

Rollins' amendment, mirroring language in the Senate's classification bill, says "Satisfactory information has been presented to the General Assembly that the population of the City of Midway, in Woodford County, is such as to justify its being classified as a city of the fourth class." The American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Midway had a population of 2,019 in 2009.

Rollins simply told the House, "Midway meets the requirements, in my opinion," and his colleagues approved his amendment on a voice vote. The only other real discussion came from Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who told the House, "We need to renew our whole system of city classification. It's archaic." He called for "one set of rules for every city" and won applause.

Bozarth is chairman of the classification committee of the Kentucky League of Cities, and has said the legislature should reform the system. As the league's second vice president, in line to become president, he will be in a position to advance the issue.

Midway City Council Member Sharon Turner, the mayor pro tem, said in an interview that fourth-class status would be good for the city in other ways, but the city's immediate concern is the desire to have its own alcoholic beverage administrator. That power now rests with County Judge-Executive John Coyle. "We get no fees and we're not an administrator per se over who gets a license or who doesn't get a license," she said. Turner publishes a magazine for the state's wine and distilled spirits industry and works for the Kentucky Malt Beverage Council, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors in the state.

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