The council voted 5-1 to approve the first reading of an ordinance developing a commission to study a charter county form of government.
"I have no problem passing the first reading right now," Councilman Bret Baierlein, said. "But we have to have some more information."
The council agreed to invite representatives from the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Association of Counties and the Department of Local Government to its Sept. 12 meeting and schedule a second reading at a later date.
The Fiscal Court passed a second reading of the ordinance Monday.
Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson warned the city that delaying the vote could cost a potential commission valuable help from outside organizations including the Bluegrass Area Development District.
He explained that BGADD and an Eastern Kentucky University professor already have offered their services to the city and county if the entities are the first to pass a commission-creating ordinance.
But Anderson County, Hardin County and Estill County also are heading toward merger studies, Wilson said.
BGADD Assistant Executive Director David Duttlinger attended the meeting and confirmed his organization's desire to help the front-running commission, which would complete studies of public services, tax equity and local government make-up, among other things.
“If we’re at the front of the line, we get these benefits,” Wilson said. “If we’re second or anything else, we’re out.”
Still, several councilmen remained unwilling to rush the issue.
If created by ordinance, the commission studying the merger would have 45 percent of its members representing the city and 55 percent representing the county, a figure that concerns McGlone.
He noted that the commission could approve a plan for merger without the consent of any city representative since only a simple majority is necessary to get the plan on the ballot during a general election. Then, voters who live only in the county and make up about 80 percent of the total population could pass the plan, despite the wishes of city voters.
“The city could still be forced into it,” he said.
Wilson disagreed, saying that any merger plan would need the approval of a clear majority of the commission in order for it to show legitimacy to voters.
“If we don’t work together, then we might as well just hang it up,” he said.
Wilson also noted that since city voters represent less than 25 percent of the county population, their 45 percent representation on the commission actually gives them a disproportionately larger say in the plan.
He stressed that the commission could ultimately decide against merging Garrard County and Lancaster. But its extensive study would provide a valuable opportunity for elected officials on both the City Council and Fiscal Court — all of whom ideally would serve on the commission — to study which specific departments and services could be combined for savings, he said.