Merging Local Government

Letter From Louisville

You may think of Louisville, Kentucky—if you think of it at all—as a sprawling, midsize, metropolitan community of 800,000 m the Upper South. But like most other American cities, Louisville is legally not one community, but many. County-wide there is a total of 95 governments: Louisville, the county, and 93 small cities. There are also 22 fire districts, two main police forces, and two EMS services. Some of our city fathers think we are in danger of smothering under this crazy quilt. Consequently, for the fifth time in four decades, government consolidation in Jefferson County has come up for debate.

In the name of progress, efficiency, and tax savings, many in the county are pushing some kind of extensive government reform—to bring to this hodgepodge "one leader, one legislative body, and one vision," as Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson puts it. The issue is a complicated one, in part because merger could mean very different things. Jefferson County could abolish all governments and establish a metro government countywide. The county could merge with all but Louisville and the 11 largest small cities, leaving these municipalities certain powers. The city and county governments alone could merge and leave all the small cities intact. Or the city and county could stay much as they arc and simply merge certain functions.

The debate concerns not just what Louisville is, but what it will become. Some...

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