After multiple attempts, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, successfully guided legislation that would permit the City of Corbin to annex property in Laurel County through the Senate.
Senate Bill 274, which Stivers introduced on Feb. 23, passed the Senate Friday by a vote of 20 to 12 with two senators passing.
Under the wording of the bill, Corbin would be able to annex property in Laurel County that is served by Corbin Utilities, including the area along West Cumberland Gap Pkwy. off of Exit 29.
Stivers noted Friday this amounts to approximately 2,000 entities and residents.
As part of the bill, Laurel County is guaranteed to continue to receive the same level of occupational tax revenue that it currently receives from businesses located in the area.
Senator Brandon Storm, R-London, who has repeatedly voiced opposition to the bill, again spoke in opposition to the bill Friday.
Storm noted that the area in question was previously annexed into the City of London.
However, there is currently litigation pending in Laurel Circuit Court filed by the City of Corbin claiming that London’s annexation violates state law.
According to the lawsuit, Corbin claims that London annexing nine miles down Interstate-75 to reach Exit 29 is corridor annexation, which is illegal.
In addition, the lawsuit claims that London is attempting to annex over Corbin’s utilities without having provided proper notice.
Storm argued that by passing the bill, the Senate was interjecting itself into the lawsuit.
“We have always been very careful about not interjecting ourselves into litigation,” Storm said of the Senate.
Finally, Storm noted that the bill did not have a fiscal impact attached to it.
“The fiscal statement is clearly need as this bill affects both Corbin and London and Laurel County,” Storm said.
Storm added that the neither the Laurel Fiscal Court, the Laurel County magistrates, the London, City Council, the Laurel County Chamber of Commerce, the London/Laurel County Tourism Commission, the London-Laurel County Industrial Development Authority, any of the businesses in the area, or any of the residents in the area support the bill.
In 2012, representatives from the Walmart Supercenter in north Corbin came before the Corbin City Commission to express support for Corbin to annex the area.
“We are willing to do whatever steps we need to take to have the law changed and so is Bentonville (Arkansas, the home of Walmart’s corporate headquarters),” said Nicole Creekmore, a shift manager at the store.
The mayor at the time, Willard McBurney, said the commission would be receptive to the idea, but noted that the state legislature would need to make the necessary changes to permit Corbin to annex the area.
Weeks after Corbin filed the lawsuit, MPI Ky. LLC (Metal Products Inc.), located off of American Greeting Road in north Corbin, joined the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff.
“MPI joined the lawsuit because we believe that governments should follow the law generally, including when annexing property. MPI is unsure of the long-term impact of London’s apparently illegal annexation of neighboring property, which is all the more reason to make sure it is done right,” said R. Scott Wilson, MPI’s Chief Executive Officer, in an e-mail responding to a request for comment from The News Journal. “Moreover, MPI believes that nearby cities should take a more regional approach that benefits everyone. Corbin has offered to pursue such an approach, and we at MPI are supportive of that.”
Senator Adrienne Southworth, R– Lawrenceburg, voiced her opposition to the bill, noting that she had previously asked Sen. Stivers to provide the names of the other cities and counties that the legislation would affect.
“It could be someone in my district,” Southworth said noting the Senate had not yet received that information. “We need to be fully apprised of the situation.”
Southworth added that as the litigation progresses, it could shed additional light on the issue that would benefit the Senate if it were to wait until 2022.
Senator Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan, also voiced his opposition, noting the opposition the bill is facing by the people that reside in the area.
“I don’t know what Pandora’s box this will open,” Turner said.
Senator Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, offered his support for the bill.
Thomas explained that he does a lot of traveling along Interstate-75 on his way to and from Atlanta.
Because of that, he said he is familiar with the area in question, noting that it is almost the exact halfway point between Lexington and Knoxville, Tennessee.
“For Corbin to be in eastern Kentucky, this area is amazingly prime for industrial and commercial development. We need to take advantage of that,” Thomas said noting it would be a boon not only for the local economy but for the state as well.
With the bill passing out of the Senate, it will now move onto the House of Representatives.
Representative Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, whose district includes the area in question, has previously voiced her support for the bill, noting that she would do what she could to get it passed in the House.
Huff said the legislature is scheduled to return to session on Thursday.
“I would think it would be in the committee next Thursday and on the floor, probably Friday,” Huff said noting the bill would likely be assigned to the House Local Government Committee, which she is a member.