Voters should decide Tri-Cities merger

Published 4:15 pm Friday, May 11, 2018

Of all the statements made in the Tri-Cities Merger Study released earlier this week by the Kentucky League of Cities, the one that was most interesting to me was the “negatives” of a merger between Cumberland, Benham and Lynch. The only negative that the study could find was a potential loss of identity for each of the three individual towns, but even then the report pointed out that the loss of identity was “in a legal sense alone.”

Since this debate started well over 20 years ago, I’ve written at least a dozen times that nothing happens to Cumberland, Benham and Lynch in a merger because the only thing really merging is three city government into one, eliminating some of the costly, and totally useless, duplication of services in an area of only 3,000 or so residents.

Cumberland, Benham and Lynch, as we know them, will still be Cumberland, Benham and Lynch in 50 years, just as they were 50 years ago — with the only major change, of course, being the massive loss in population and industry. Even if the decline continues, it’s basically impossible for the area to lose as many people as it has in the last half century because there just aren’t enough people left to lose.

The only thing merging is the three city governments and the agencies within those city governments. The communities won’t change, except there would be only one city government with a new name likely based on the “Tri-Cities.” Anyone voting against the merger, if there is a vote, won’t be protecting their hometown, just the city government that runs it.

The Fayette County and Lexington governments merged in 1974 to form the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. It’s pretty clear Lexington hasn’t lost its identity in any way, shape or form due to the merger and has continued to grow since that time.

After the lengthy and comprehensive study made it clear that a merger is a logical option to help the cities, the next step is to give the residents an opportunity to vote. According to information in the study, the councils would have to approve a merger vote by August to get the issue on the ballots in November.

There are some doubts whether the powers that be in all three cities trust the residents enough to give them that opportunity to decide for themselves on merger, further cementing the point that some city leaders are much more concerned with hanging on to what little power they have now than taking the chance they could eventually lose influence in a merged goverment.

A merger isn’t going to turn the area into Lexington or Gatlinburg or solve all of the problems in the Tri-Cities, but it’s a step in the right direction, one that should have been taken decades ago. I still wonder if the residents would actually approve combining the three governmental bodies and even more questions about whether the leaders have enough “political will,” to quote the study, to at least bring the question up for a vote. It’s time for the residents of the communities who are ready to really work together, instead of just talking about it, to step up and demand that opportunity.