Kentucky’s Senate President said this week he intends to revive a proposal next year that would allow the city of Corbin to annex into to certain portions of southern Laurel County, a measure he says could provide an economic windfall for the area and create jobs.
Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) hopes to avoid the “toxic atmosphere” that killed the measure during the 2016 General Assembly by launching an “education effort” in the near future that will likely include appearances before the Laurel County Fiscal Court, the Laurel County School Board, the Corbin City Commission and even a possible community information forum.
“When it came out earlier this year, there was a lot of misinformation about additional taxes, forced annexation, battles between cities and counties, all that sort of stuff,” Stivers said. “A lot of people just didn’t know what it meant.”
“I think when people hear this and understand this, they will be for it.”
Stivers’ proposal would allow cities to annex into a county where they don’t currently have incorporated territory — something that’s currently illegal under Kentucky law.
State statutes don’t expressly prevent cities from annexing into numerous counties, but judicial decisions dating back to the 1930s establish that common law in Kentucky forbids a city from annexing into a county where it was not initially chartered.
Opening the door for this type of annexation, Stivers contends, is necessary for economic growth, particularly near Exit 29 along I-75, and US 25. Numerous businesses along the Cumberland Gap Parkway (US 25E) have requested to be annexed into Corbin, including Walmart. And, local officials say a significant retail development planned for the old King’s Truck Stop location hinges on being incorporated into a city.
“This is not something to bring in a bunch of residences,” Stivers said. “There are people that have signed firm letters that want to do over $50 million worth of development and bring over 500 jobs. These are people that want to come into the city. It’s not set up for the annexation of residential property.”
Before any annexation could be considered, the legislative bodies in both the city and county would have to approve an interlocal agreement detailing the territory proposed to be annexed.
That might be a tough sell.
Laurel County Judge-Executive David Westerfield said Tuesday that “the fiscal court is opposed to the city of Corbin coming into Laurel County.”
During the fiscal court’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday morning, Fourth District Magistrate Jeff Book asked that opposition be read into the official minutes for the meeting. No vote was taken on the issue, but there was no dissent.
“The people don’t want to be annexed into Corbin,” Westerfield said. “The way it stands today, I am opposed.”
Stivers said legislation he plans to introduce into the Kentucky Senate would include a tax-sharing structure that ensures counties receive a baseline amount of tax revenue on things like insurance premium taxes, occupational taxes, property taxes and other taxes based on previous collections. Stivers referred to it as a “hold harmless” clause that he said makes it enticing and fair.
Any revenue over the baseline would be split between the city and county pursuant to any negotiated interlocal agreement.
Stivers originally introduced the measure as an amendment to two bills in late March, but ended up pulling it from consideration following some objections from fellow legislators and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
This time around, he said he plans to introduce the proposal as a stand-alone bill during the 2017 General Assembly in February. Stivers said he hopes by then there will be a greater understanding about how it works, and the opposition won’t be so fierce.
Westerfield noted that about 18 to 20 people showed up at the fiscal court meeting Tuesday to protest what they thought was going to be a vote on the issue. When they were told no such voted was taking place, they left. He said he was aggravated about ongoing misinformation regarding annexation.
“They were told the fiscal court was voting on allowing Corbin to annex into Laurel County. That was a total lie,” he said. “We have to deal with this to console our people and try to correct it. It’s just one lie after another. People just need to tell the truth and go with it.”
Stivers said he’s had the same frustrations.
“People have all types of motives and some of them aren’t altruistic,” Stivers said. “My bottom line is that the long-term effect is going to be very positive and create jobs.”
Stivers noted that if property values increase and jobs are created because of the proposal, entities like library boards, school boards, tourism commissions, etc. would all benefit with additional revenue without having to do anything additional to get it.
“It’s something that doesn’t create winners or losers. It just creates winners,” he said.
Westerfield said people could possibly change their minds about the proposal, himself included, once it is actually introduced and the specific language of the legislation is known.
Casey Taylor Watson, a local grocery store owner and southern Laurel County resident, said she opposes any sort of change in current Kentucky law that would allow Corbin to annex into Laurel County. She lives on American Greeting Road and is concerned that even though the proposal would limit the territory Corbin could annex, she still fears the city would find a way in the future to take her residence into its borders.
“What’s to stop them if they want more,” Watson said.
“They aren’t going to stop. Once they get a foothold, they are going to want more.”
Watson said she is also opposed to the idea because it would mean qualifying stores and restaurants could serve alcohol in any newly annexed territory without a vote of the citizens in the area.
“The more readily available you make it, then people with serious problems can get a hold of it a lot easier,” Watson said.
“I just know my parents have fought this all my life,” she added. “My mom went on a bus to Frankfort to fight this in the 1970s. I’m just not for it. I don’t wan to stop progress, but if there is so much interest in developing that then why aren’t they pouring the foundation right now?”
Taylor said all of her neighbors feel the same way.
Calls to Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney seeking comment Tuesday were not returned by press time.
Also among the opposition last time the proposal was introduced was Senator Albert Robinson, R-London, whose district includes Laurel County.
Robinson said at the time he was against it because of fears over forced annexation.