CORRESPONDENCErnLetter FromrnLouisvillernby Katherine DaltonrnMerging Local GovernmentrnYou may think of Louisville, Kentucky—rnif you think of it at all—as a sprawling,rnmidsize, metropolitan community ofrn800,000 m the Upper South. But likernmost other American cities, Louisville isrnlegall)’ not one community, but many.rnCountvwide there is a total of 95 governments:rnLouisville, the county, and 93rnsmall cities. There are also 22 fire districts,rntwo main police forces, and twornEMS services. Some of our city fathersrnthink we are in danger of smotheringrnunder this crazy quilt. Consequently,rnfor the fifth time in four decades,rngovernment consolidation in JeffersonrnCounty has come up for debate.rnIn the name of progress, efficiency,rnand tax savings, many in the county arernpushing some kind of extensive governmentrnreform—to bring to this hodgepodgern”one leader, one legislative body,rnand one vision,” as Louisville MayorrnJerry Abramson puts it. The issue is arncomplicated one, in part because mergerrncould mean very different things. JeffersonrnCounty could abolish all governmentsrnand establish a metro governmentrncountywide. The county could mergernwith all but Louisville and the 11 largestrnsmall cities, leaving these municipalitiesrncertain powers. The city and countyrngovernments alone could merge andrnleave all the small cities intact. Or therncity and county could stav much as theyrnarc and simply merge certain functions.rnThe debate concerns not just whatrnLouisville is, but what it will become.rnSome civic leaders look longingly at tworncomparable neighbors, both of whichrnhave consolidated governments: Indianapolis,rnwhich has grown 13 percent inrnthe past two decades, and Nashville, uprn2 percent in the same period. Sincern1970, Jefferson County has lost aboutrn30,000 people. “Why have those citiesrnprospered so substantially better thanrnwe?” asked A. Wallace “Skip” Crafton, arnDemocratic insider and a partner at thernstate’s largest law firm. He believes thernanswer is, in part, merged government.rnThrough consolidation, Indianapolis andrnNashville have come up with a way “tornarrive at a community consensus of whatrnthey want to do.” That consensus, hernsaid, has led to growth.rnIn Jefferson County, merger was lastrnvoted on, and voted down, in 1982 andrn1983. The fight was a bitter one. Today,rnopponents are already organizing to defeatrnany sweeping measure that wouldrnthreaten their constituencies, and thernrhetoric has grown sharp.rnBy no means does everyone sharernGrafton’s and the mayor’s desire for consolidation.rnJefferson County Districtrn”C” Commissioner Darryl T. Owens saidrnthat while Mayor Abramson has indicatedrnhis support for “major surgery” in localrngovernment, “before I operate, I wantrnto know what the illness is.” Owens doesrnnot believe that multiple services necessarilyrnmean duplication and inefficiency.rn”The reality is that merger costs morernand is less efficient—that’s the data,”rnhe said. “And I don’t know that we necessarilyrnneed one leader.”rnSomewhere in the middle is PeytonrnHoge III, mayor of the small city of Anchorage.rnHe favors merging city andrncounty governments but opposes includingrnthe small cities such as his own.rnHe wonders why all communities in JeffersonrnCounty should speak with onernvoice, for various areas want various servicesrnand zoning laws. “Our goals are different.”rnThe most commonly used argumentrnfor merger is that it will bring more economicrngrowth to greater Louisville. BillrnStone, president of Louisville Plate GlassrnCompany, speaks for many when herntouts the marketing advantage Louisvillernwould gain if it were one of the 25 largestrncities in the country. (Merged with thernentire county, Louisville would actuallyrnbecome number 16. It is now far downrnthe list at 58.)rnSince the 50’s, the fight for onerngovernment has been led by thernLouisville business community. Thernmost recent attempts in 1982 and 1983rnwere led by the Chamber of Commerce,rnwhich spent $600,000 unsuccessfully tornpromote two plans that would havernmerged city and county governments.rnIn Louisville, the business communityrnwants two things: a simplified governmentrnstructure (“so they only have tornmake one call, instead of two,” as mergerrnopponent Darryl Owens puts it) andrnmore economic growth. Louisville’srnMayor Abramson said consulting firmsrnwho help companies plan moves call uprnLouisville on their data base, see a cityrnpopulation of 269,000, and strike it offrntheir list as too small for consideration,rneven though the county is home torn665,000 and the metro area totalsrn800,000.rnSome merger proponents also promiserncost savings from consolidating agenciesrnand functions. As there is no plan on therntable yet, they cannot cite specific instances.rnMore importantly, say others,rnone government would bring a more focusedrnuse of tax dollars. Skip Graftonrnsaid the real benefit of one police departmentrnis that citizens would get “onernpolicy and one strategic plan for law enforcement,rnrather than two.” With increasinglyrnlimited resources, “we needrnto focus the dollars to get the maximumrnbenefit from them.” Abramson thinksrnthis has already happened with the 1990rnmerger of the city and county police departments’rnnarcotics units. As a singlernentity, Metro Narcotics is now “more effective,rnmore productive, and our arrestsrnare up 14 percent,” he said.rnIf we take the Hippocratic argumentrnthat we should first do no harm, we needrnto look at what constituencies would bernaffected—and possibly hurt—by consolidation.rnThe thorniest problem politicallyrnis undoubtedly the small cities,rnmost of which are located in the vocal,rnupper-middle-class, mostly white EastrnEnd. Jefferson County has 93 of thesernsmall cities, and one in five county residentsrnlives in them. These cities levyrntheir own taxes and fees, collect theirrnown garbage, and do their own street repair.rnThe larger of them run their ownrnfire and police departments.rnIn 1982 and 1983, the small city residentsrnvoted strongly for merger. Butrnthat was because the cities were leftrnuntouched by a plan to merge onlyrnLouisville and county government. IfrnNOVEMBER 1994/41rnrnrn