Sustained Outrage

Metro government: Where are specifics?

One good question that keeps coming up in discussion of metro government is exactly how would county residents save money on the functions of government, how much and in what categories?

The short answer is nobody knows because the committee that is responsible for figuring it out hasn’t been formed yet.

Nor will it be formed unless Charleston and Kanawha residents agree that they want to consider forming a consolidated government. That can be done either through a petition or by resolutions passed by Charleston City Council and the Kanawha County Commission.

I asked Jennifer Sayre, deputy county manager, when residents could expect to get more specific details about metro government savings. Here is her response:

When will the cost savings of Metro Government be discussed?

Since the discussion has started regarding Metro Government in Kanawha County and the City of Charleston, the number one question that has been asked is how much money will a consolidated government save?  Unfortunately there is no correct answer to this question at this time.  As I have posted before on the Gazette’s Blog, most of the decisions regarding the layout of the consolidated government will not be developed until the Charter Review Committee is appointed.  The Charter Review Committee must be composed of the following based upon statute:

(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.

As you can see, the members of the Charter Review Committee must represent the full population of those being considered in the consolidated government.  Once the Charter Review Committee is appointed, then the Committee has two years to study metro government as the law requires and provide a draft charter for the public to vote on.  The development of this charter will allow for public comment as required by the statute.  The Committee must hold at least three public hearings during its study of metro government and completion of a draft during the two-year allowed period.
The Committee is charged with several duties, which include

(1) The fiscal impact of the proposed consolidation on the affected municipalities, counties and metro governments including:
a. The cost of providing services by the consolidated local government;
b. Projected revenues available to the consolidated local government based upon proposed classifications and tax structures; and
c. Projected economies of scale resulting from consolidation.

Therefore, the Charter Review Committee will take into account the proposed cost and cost savings of a Consolidated Government.  The Committee will be given ample opportunity to study potential cost savings with the Metro Government.  The Committee’s study process and draft Charter will be a public document that may be viewed by the public during its draft period.  The draft Charter will also be discussed in public meetings and the public will have the opportunity to provide input.

As it has been stated, this is a process that will take time and all of the answers will not be given in one single day.  The Charter Review Committee has much more information to study and prepare as part of the Charter, the financial aspect is only one piece.

Metro government: How Brooks McCabe envisions it

Sen. Brooks McCabe has been praised and pilloried on this blog, in the paper and elsewhere for pushing consideration of metro government. We asked McCabe to spell out how he envisions metro government in Kanawha County in as much detail as possible. Here’s what he came up with:

What Is Metro Government, An Example

By Brooks F. McCabe, Jr.

As we discuss the prospect of metro government with Charleston and Kanawha County, certain questions continually arise.  What is the plan?  What does it mean to me?  What are the benefits for the community?  Is it worth the cost?  Trying to answer these questions, even at this mccabe_brooks.jpgearly stage in the process, can be helpful to frame the discussion.

The plan for metro government will be finalized in a proposed charter which will be voted on by the residents of Charleston and Kanawha County.  To pass, it needs a majority vote by those voting within the Charleston city limits and by those outside of the city limits, whether as part of another municipality or from the unincorporated areas of the county.

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Metro government: More answers from Louisville

Remember the Q&A from the metro government forum earlier this month? Some of those questions were directed to Louisville, Ky., Mayor Jerry Abramson. His office has since sent responses to those questions, and Jennifer Sayre, deputy county manager of Kanawha County, passed them on to us:

louisville_kentucky_seal.jpgFrom: Shannon Tivitt, Chief of Staff, Louisville Metro

RE: Questions and Answers

Our staff has researched your questions about merger of city and county government in Louisville and tried to provide helpful answers. Thank you again for the opportunity to share our success story with your community.

  1. Did you/Do you have any smaller communities that refused to merge? If so, what problems?

The merger statute did not dissolve the 80 or so small suburban cities within Louisville Metro. These citizens are part of Louisville Metro, receive city services and pay city taxes as other residents of the former county did.

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In reading the Brookings report “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel Prosperity” and writing Wednesday’s summary of it, one question kept bugging me:

brookings3.JPGWhich comes first, metro prosperity or metro government?

Several of the metropolitan areas cited in the report have merged governments or functions. Metro government proponents in Kanawha County cite this report in support of merging governments into a metro system here.

The report clearly spells out that metropolitan areas, no matter their form of government, have urban centers whose economic fortunes are intertwined with their surrounding areas. Metro areas parlay innovation, human capital and infrastructure into more opportunities, employment and wealth.

But does that mean if you form a merged metropolitan government, prosperity will follow?

I asked the report’s author Alan Berube, senior fellow and research director at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, in short, if economic prosperity is the cause of metro government rather than the result? Here’s his answer:

 “I think your inclination is correct — creating a metro government in Charleston will not magically produce the collection of underlying economic assets that make large metropolitan areas such powerful players in the national and global economy — innovative firms, educated and skilled workers, modern and efficient infrastructure, high-quality sustainable places.

“Yet you shouldn’t overlook the outsized economic contribution that the Charleston region already makes in the WV context.  As the largest metropolitan area in the state (and the 147th largest in the nation), the Charleston, WV MSA contains 17% of the state’s population, 20% of the state’s jobs, and generates almost 24% of the state’s GDP.  So like most metro areas, Charleston already “punches above its weight.” (See here for stats)  Note that this represents the contribution of the whole metro area: Kanawha County plus Boone, Clay, Lincoln and Putnam counties.

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The case for nurturing metropolitan areas

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The map above is from “MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity,” a2007 report by Brookings’  Metropolitan Policy Program. It shows the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas by employment in 2005. Note the conspicuous lack of dots anywhere in West Virginia.

State Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, cites this report support of forming a metro government for Charleston and Kanawha County, something he has been talking about for years.

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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.

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Metro government will draw jobs. Seriously?

kanawhacountymap.JPG

Metro government supporters routinely say that a new consolidated government would make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations looking for new locations. Skeptics shake their heads. Kanawha has about 190,000 people, including 50,000 in Charleston. Redrawing lines on a map or redesigning local government won’t suddenly add thousands of irresistible skilled workers or fix any other problems that turn business off.

True, says Matt Ballard, president and CEO of Charleston Area Alliance. But he believes metro government really could make Kanawha County more attractive to corporations.

“Large businesses do hire site consultants,” Ballard said. “They come back with a short list of sites that meet certain criteria.” Companies are usually looking for two main things — infrastructure and population of a certain size, enough to provide a good workforce.

So, for example, if that consultant makes a list of all the metropolitan statistical areas of 250,000 anchored by a principal city, no place in West Virginia makes the cut.

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frankmullens.jpgSouth Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens is the second Kanawha County elected official to answer our question: “When you imagine metro government, what do you see?” Mullens was elected mayor in 2007. He started working for the city as a lifeguard in 1982 at age 19. He attended West Virginia State College, sold real estate for a time and worked his way up to city public works director in 1992. South Charleston was established in 1906 and incorporated in 1919. The city has about 12,000 people

A vision of metro government

By Frank Mullens

Mayor of South Charleston

Vision on Metro Government. I guess it is simply that a principle City (Charleston) would be the major identity of the County and the major decision maker. Even though the supporters say there would be no change in how smaller Cities function, I don’t believe that would be the case and certainly not in the long run.

The argument that every City would have representation which gives them a voice just doesn’t hold water. The voice would be small and ineffective. The people serving now will not be the people serving 10 or 20 years from now, so who’s to say where the power structure would go? Here in South Charleston, I believe we have an efficient and effective government, the best services in the State, and the City is financially strong. Why would we change? Our services are very personalized, and I believe if we merge services it would take away that special personalized touch.

There are many questions that need to be answered and some comments that just do not make sense. The discussions have been very generic. Comments such as more efficient and effective government lack detail. A great question would be “What service that the City of South Charleston provides now would a Metro Government provide better and how?” There have been many comments made that a Metro Government would be more cost effective by sharing resources or services. While there may be some, which needs to be explained in more detail, many of these things I would contend could be done now without the formalization of a Metro Government ( 911, Metro Drug Unit). There is also evidence that sharing cost for bulk buying does not always save money.

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Metro government: The view from Chesapeake

Some time ago, while listening to an argument about metro government, it occurred to me that no two people I ever met seemed to mean the exact same thing when they used the term. So, we asked several Kanawha County elected officials to write down for us in their own words precisely what they see when they imagine some future metro government in the county.

bradshaw21.JPGThe first one is Damron Bradshaw, mayor of Chesapeake since 1991. He previously served on the town council and as town recorder. He is executive director of the Upper Kanawha Valley Enterprise Community, pastor of the Racine United Methodist Church and worked for 32 years at Dupont. Chesapeake has about 1,600 residents. It was incorporated on Nov. 1, 1948 and is named for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

How do I see metro government?

By Damron Bradshaw

Mayor of Chesapeake

My vision of metro government in the sense of Charleston-Kanawha County is truly akin to what I saw when I twice visited Louisville, Ky. Being mayor of one of the small towns in the Upper Kanawha Valley, I see a metro government that does not take away the autonomy of the towns. The towns do not change their structured form of government, but besides that have a representative to the new metro government.

If the 190,000 inhabitants of Kanawha Valley are evenly divided by population and each “new district” has representation to the metro government, then I think that there is equal representation. I see a diversity of representatives by race, age and gender coming together for the good of all.  But, the big thing is, “How will the unincorporated areas perceive metro government as it relates to them?”

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Metro government: What’s the process?

At Kanawha County’s request, the Legislature this year changed the state code so that Kanawha County needs only a simple majority of affected voters (anything over 50 percent) to consolidate governments.

The law lists three possible versions of consolidated government. One is the consolidation of two or more counties. Another is the consolidation of two or more cities or towns. The third variety, the one most talked about in Kanawha County right now, is called a metro consolidation in state law and is the consolidation of one or more counties with a principal city.

So, how do you actually go about creating a new government? You can read Chapter 7A of state for yourself. Here are the steps for a metro consolidation (the details vary somewhat for the other two kinds) listed in the law:

Step 1 — To get the process started, at least 25 percent of the registered voters of each affected principal city and county (excluding the principal city) sign a petition in support of a metro consolidation, or the affected principal city and county pass  resolutions for a metro consolidation.

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