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Published: Friday, 7/23/2004

Kentucky mayor gives thoughts about 'unigov'

Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky, merged in January, 2003, to form Louisville Metro, and at least 40 other communities have inquired about the experience, Joan Riehm, deputy mayor of Louisville Metro, said yesterday during a taping of The Editors television program.

Mayor Jack Ford has spoken of "unigov," the name given to the merger of Indianapolis and the surrounding county, but he has not endorsed a particular form of unified government.

A meeting among representatives of governments in Lucas County - cities, villages, townships, the county - is tentatively scheduled for next month. During the first such summit in March, many suburban officials expressed mistrust of Toledo and skepticism about the concept.

"It's really important to remember [Louisville has] been trying for 50 years," Ms. Riehm said. "We had the same kinds of problems of mistrust, especially with the suburbs and the city."

Voters approved a merger in 2000 after defeating other plans for combined government in 1956, 1982, and 1983.

After each defeat in Louisville, city, county, and business leaders took incremental steps. Some city and county departments merged, though city and county government remained separate. Countywide taxing districts were formed for sewers and transit.

Still, many believed a formal merger was important, so a different, simplified plan was presented in 2000. The executive and legislative branches of the city and county were merged. Residents of the county's 94 incorporated suburban cities vote for the metro mayor and council, but "otherwise their boundaries, their taxing authority, their mayor and councils were not affected," Ms. Riehm said.

The merger has allowed Louisville Metro to deliver services with the same or fewer revenues, Ms. Riehm said.

She was questioned by Thomas Walton, vice president-editor of The Blade. The Editors will air at 8:30 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.

Ms. Riehm was to discuss the creation of Louisville Metro at 7:30 a.m. today in the Toledo Hilton during an informational breakfast sponsored by the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I don't think merger is the answer for a lot of communities," she said.

"It could be that there are other ways to get government cooperation and maybe to consolidate some services that don't require an all-out merger. You've got to find your own answer. And, of course, that begins with asking what's the problem and how does government reform address it?"



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