Debt-ridden small town on cusp of bankruptcy or dissolving

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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By Steve Bittenbender

The Center Square

A small town in western Kentucky could be dissolved as its leaders try to figure out how to deal with debt surpassing more than $150,000.

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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters during a recent news conference that he finds the situation developing in Sturgis “concerning.” Earlier this week, WFIE-TV in Evansville, Indiana, reported the Union County community of about 2,000 residents racked up the debt due to unpaid bills that accrued over several years.

As a result, the town cut its workforce by nearly 75% and has just eight full-time workers. WFIE also reported Sturgis is down to just a single police officer.

The Sturgis City Council is set to meet Sept. 18, and options it may consider include filing for bankruptcy or dissolving the city.

Beshear said during his weekly press briefing that he was just learning about the situation in the town 40 miles southwest of Evansville near the Ohio River.

“A municipal bankruptcy is a very rare thing,” he said. “It’s very challenging, and for any type of dissolution or the other, it would require, I think, a pretty significant court proceeding that wouldn’t be in the near term… there are a lot of pieces that go into it.”

The governor said he was hopeful the state Department of Local Government would be able to provide residents with some answers.

Sturgis is in the district of state Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, who said he’s been working with county officials to identify a solution.

“The unpaid bills and deficits have left the city and its residents in a terrible situation,” he said.

Mills is also Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s nominee for lieutenant governor in the Nov. 7 election, and the race between Cameron and Beshear is expected to be close.

The senator expressed his dismay that Beshear was just learning about the situation and said it showed how “disconnected” the governor is from local officials.

“I am confident in O’Nan and his ability to resolve this situation,” Mills said of Union County Judge-Executive Adam O’Nan. “I stand ready to work with my colleagues to assist the city and county in any way that we can.”