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Metro government: Forum Q and A

At a July 8 forum on metro government featuring Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Kanawha residents submitted questions to be answered later. Below are answers provided by Kanawha County Commission staff. The county has also  posted them on the county’s web site.

Metro Government Forum Questions

 

1. Will each council representative have equal voice – one vote per representative? Or would it be based on population?

The council representatives will be elected in districts that would be established based on equal populations. Thus, each vote will represent about the same number of people.  The size of the district will be decided via the Charter Review Committee that will be appointed once a resolution is passed by the Commission and City of Charleston or a petition is signed by 25% of the voters of Kanawha County and 25% of the voters of the City of Charleston requesting that Metro Government be evaluated.

2. How would Metro Government affect volunteer fire departments?

Fire protection in the unincorporated areas would remain unchanged as the Metro Bill excludes Volunteer Fire Departments. 

3. I believe that most people in Kanawha County are opposed to “Metro Government.” Why don’t you have opponents of Metro Government in this so-called “forum?”

Although there were no direct opponents on the forum board, there were those who have reservations about certain aspects of a Metro Government consolidation. The purpose of the forum was not to push the concept of Metro Government on the residents of Kanawha County but to explore the idea of Metro Government for Kanawha County together to decide if it would be a beneficial change to the county.   The forum was advertised in the newspaper and all citizens were invited to attend whether they were for or against the idea.  The purpose of the forum was to hear from the two Governmental Entities as to how Metro Government would affect these areas.

4. How do you deal with the personality issues-trust of leaders who come and go with elections?

With every government organization there will always be differences of opinion and personality clashes. Under the Metro Government, there would be a council that will represent all areas of the county based on districts.  Hopefully, this would provide a voice for every part of the county, large or small, so that issues could be resolved and compromises could be made to satisfy all residents.

5. I have done some research comparing the demographics (specifically population and population density) of Louisville-Jefferson Metro and Charleston and Kanawha County, WV. In short, they are vastly different. Why is Louisville-Jefferson Metro used as a model for the merging process, when it bears so little in common with Charleston and Kanawha County? Why, not, instead find a model that more closely resembles Charleston and Kanawha County?

The Louisville-Jefferson model has been the one most explored by Kanawha County and Charleston because the Louisville top officials have been very open to letting us explore their model. It may or may not serve as the plan for Kanawha County. Metro Government consolidations are flexible and may be adjusted to fit the needs of each county-city system.  Kanawha County is reviewing all Metro Government Plans throughout the United States as will the Charter Review Committee before making specific decisions.

6. What happens to the elected Sheriff’s position?

This is a question that would have to be determined through the Charter Review Committee process.  There is currently not an answer to this question.  However, once the Charter Review Committee is installed, then they will be required to have public meetings and this question that can be discussed during those meetings.

7. Eastern Kanawha County has been ignored for years. Why should these voters approve or agree to another form of government and empty promises?

The Kanawha County Commission has supported the Eastern Part of Kanawha County through many projects that it has helped fund through Coal Severance Dollars as well as General Fund Dollars.  The Commission has worked with the municipalities and unincorporated areas of Kanawha County to improve the area by providing fire hydrants and supporting water projects in this area.

All parts of the county will have a voice on the Metro Council. The Metro Council will be divided among districts of the County.  Those districts will have representatives from the Eastern part of the County.

8. After Metro Government is established, will municipalities still be able to annex surrounding areas into their towns?

This will be another question that will need to be decided by the Charter Review Committee.  The public will have the opportunity to provide input regarding the Charter during public hearings.

9. If we are pushing Metro Government, why not expand the current County Commission to 15 persons?

This is another question that will need to be determined via the Charter Review Committee.  However, in order to increase the number of Commissioners, state code would have to be changed as currently Kanawha County is only permitted to have no more than 5 Commissioners.

10. Can’t most of the economic/efficiency benefits of Metro be achieved by intergovernmental agreements? If so, why merge?

Yes, many economic and efficiency benefits can be realized by intergovernmental agreements; however, there are many other benefits than just efficiency. Metro Government by its nature offers a more effective business climate than the current structure.  The creation of Intergovernmental Agreements does not eliminate the duplication of services that is seen with having two governments.

11. How will the merger effect unincorporated areas? Will there be a municipal tax on real and personal property? Sewage-will it be provided?

Metro Government will give the unincorporated areas of Kanawha County a louder voice as well as the tools and support they need to take action. As the Honorable State Senator Brooks McCabe said during the forum, the state law that allows Metro Government precludes officials from altering the existing tax structures-there will not be a municipal tax on real and personal property. The areas of Kanawha County that did not have sewage prior to the onset of Metro Government will continue to use septic facilities, until grants can be obtained to upgrade systems.

12.  Mayor Abramson – Did you/Do you have any smaller communities that refused to merge? If so, what problems?

As this was a question asked to Mayor Abramson regarding Louisville we have asked his staff to prepare a response and will post the response once it is available.

13. In planning Metro in Kanawha County, how many unincorporated residents are on the planning committee? Are they all Charleston residents?

The Metro Government Statute determines the persons appointed to the Charter Review Committee.  By State Code a Charter Review Committee considering County/City Consolidation must include:

(1) Two government officials or their designees from the Principal City appointed by the governing body of the principal city;

(2) Two County Commissioners or their designees from the affected County appointed by the County Commission

(3) Two or three public members, including one from an unincorporated area, elected by the other members to make the number of the charter review committee members and odd number

14. Mayor Abramson, could you please share your experience of unity or working from 1 voice to help a large employer in your area to obtain employees for their “night shift” including the educational opportunities that you created-in other    words, your UPS project?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested that his staff prepare a response and will post it once it is available.

15.  How will the current unincorporated areas of the county be affected with respect to such areas as taxation (i.e., B&O tax) and zoning?

As the Honorable State Senator Brooks McCabe said during the forum, the state law that allows Metro Government precludes officials from altering the existing tax structures.  Therefore the unincorporated areas will pay the same taxes they pay currently.  Zoning is an issue that would have to be determined by the Charter Review Committee.

16.  You said that police, firefighters, etc. were not laid off. What positions were made redundant by the consolidation? What did the city of Louisville do for those      persons who were out of a job following the consolidation?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to respond and will post the answer when it is available.

17.  What about police and fire protection in an unincorporated area? What happens if the benefits don’t occur as promised? Is this permanent?

Fire protection for the unincorporated areas would remain the same as the Metro Bill excludes Volunteer Fire Departments.  Police Protection would be reviewed by the Charter Review Committee and recommendations would be made through the proposed charter.

The Metro Government Statute states that the Charter Review Committee will determine, “the method by which a consolidated local government may dissolve after existing for a minimum of six years.”  Therefore, Metro Government does not have to be permanent.

18.  What about representation on city council for unincorporated areas?

The Metro Council will be made up of members of districts throughout the County.  It has suggested that each district represent 8,000 to 10,000 citizens.  Therefore all of the unincorporated areas would have at least one representative on the Metro Council.

 19.  What happens to the employees who lose their jobs due to duplicate positions?

We are awaiting information from Mayor Abramsons staff to explain how they handled duplicate positions.  Once we have received their information we will post their response.

20.  Mayor Abramson, looking back, what would you have done differently to make the election of Metro Government happen sooner?

This was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have asked his staff to prepare a response and will post as soon as it is received.

 21.  Are the 26 elected representatives from single-member districts? Isn’t 26 too many?

The number of elected representatives on the Metro Council has not been fully resolved.  The Charter Review Committee will determine the number of districts and the number of representatives for the Council. 

22.  Mayor Abramson, how were you able to NOT lay off people in the categories mentioned? Were there other layoffs?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

  23. Mayor, did you develop a severance package or accelerated retirement, etc.?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

24. Mayor Abramson, how did you negotiate the overlap in the top key positions?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

25. What affect has Metro Government had on annexation of suburban cities of industrial entities in unincorporated areas?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

 26.  Explain the process of making pre-merger-election estimates of financial savings, and how accurate these estimates have proven.

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

27. I understand that South Charleston is opposed to Metro Government. So if the merger occurs, would South Charleston be part of the Metro or not?

Yes, South Charleston would be part of the Metro Government. However, they would still be able to maintain their own identity by offering their own services and by retaining their mayor and city council. They also would have a representative on the Metro Council.

28. How will unincorporated areas be represented in the Metro Government?

The Metro Council will be made up of members of districts throughout the County.  It has suggested that each district represent 8,000 to 10,000 citizens.  Therefore all of the unincorporated areas would have at least one representative on the Metro Council.

29. If it is true that assimilated businesses in non-Metro areas would not pay B&O taxes, there appears to be an inequity as the non-payer would be receiving the same services and opportunities as a paying business. Please comment.

Rural or suburban areas of the County that would become part of the newly formed Metro government would not be subject to B&O taxes.  As discussed at the CommUNITY Forum, taxes would not change for any of the citizens or businesses.  It is misleading to say that suburban businesses would receive the same services as urban business; in fact, each area would receive the same services they were receiving before Metro government.  The Louisville model divides the Metro area into an Urban Service District and a Suburban Service District, each maintaining the services it had prior to Metro government.

30. Mayor Abramson, it seems that in one of the lessons you learned in your efforts which succeeded on the 4th try, you spoke very clearly today about the importance of citizens in this process. You had a four-legged approach: business, political, government, and citizens/voters. No matter what the threshold percentage is, you still have to have enough voters who say yes to pass it. Our approach doesn’t seem yet to have a clear citizen involvement strategy. I.E. We are holding a public forum at 10 AM when most citizens can’t come. We held an invitation only event for politicians, government, and business leaders but not citizen leaders at a time when they could attend. Citizen confidence and trust is essential. What lessons did you learn? What thoughts do you have to help us do our process in a way that promotes citizen trust and confidence in the process so they will at least give it a full hearing for a vote?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

31.  Have you seen any reductions or cost savings for Metro pensions and retirement plans in Louisville, the same problems that are now bankrupting most WV cities and towns?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

32.  Has the Metro model assisted in freeing up money for city and town makeovers to attract more people to downtown living?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.

33.  How much of the suburban cities’ budgets becomes designated to the Metro Government budget?

As this was a question directed to Mayor Abramson, we have requested his staff to prepare a response and we will post it as soon as it is available.  Further, this would be a decision of the Charter Review Committee.

34.  Louisville/Jefferson County Metro changed from 60 square miles to an area consisting of 386 square miles for a difference of 326 square miles. For comparison, Charleston/Kanawha Metro will be 524.99 square miles larger with a population of 493,927 less than the Louisville/Jefferson Metro Government. How will you provide all the services required with this much difference?

The Louisville model divides the Metro area into an Urban Service District and a Suburban Service District.  Each District receives the same services they were receiving before Metro government.  This would also hold true for Charleston/Kanawha County Metro, with the caveat that the Charter Review Committee has the ability to tailor the Metro government Charter to best fit the desires of the community.

35.  Once Metro Government occurs, will law enforcement be handled by the Charleston Metro Police Department or the Kanawha County Metro Sheriff’s office? Who will lead the law enforcement-police or sheriff?

This will be a decision made by the Charter Review Committee.

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