What I learned at City Officials Academy

Here we go! #paducahmayor

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This week the Mayor, City Manager, Commissioner Wilson, Commissioner Rhodes, and I traveled to Lexington for the Kentucky League of City's City Official Academy. We spent two and a half days in Lexington immersed in the Kentucky Constitution, statutes, and policy covering everything from emergency personnel discipline to whether or not we should pave a private driveway during road construction (the answer is NO!). 

I wanted to share a couple of the big takeaways for me in the hope that we all start this year with a better understanding of our city government and how it runs. 

1. Paducah's form of government is unique in Kentucky and the distinctions are important.

Only about 5% of cities in Kentucky use the city-manager form of government. Paducah is one of them. Both the executive AND legislative powers in our city are assigned to the Board of Commissioners. The mayor is a voting member of this body and the ceremonial head of the city government. However, the mayor has no veto power and no independent authority to pass regulations. 

The day-to-day responsibility for running the city government belongs to the city manager, although the Board of Commissioners may override any action taken by the city manager. 

2. The difference between ordinances and orders.

An ordinance is an "official action of a city legislative body" and has the force of local law. As long as it doesn't conflict with state or federal law, it is how the City Commission gets things done in service to the public. Every ordinance must be read twice, with each reading taking place on separate days. 

A municipal order is an official act of the City Commission relating to the internal operation and function of the city. For example, an order to appoint a member to a board, commission, or other agency over which the city has control would require an order. 

3. Planning and zoning have long-term and far-reaching effects. 

The City Commission makes lots of decisions big and small about everything from personnel to taxes. Often the long-term impact of city planning and zoning gets lost. How we spend our dollars right now is hugely important but what our city looks like in 20 or 30 years is as well and that's why prioritizing planning and zoning is essential. 

4. Public funds may only be spent for a public purpose.

Speaking of spending city dollars! When donating city funds to a private entity, we have to ask these three questions.

  1. Does the city receive benefit and can it independently engage in the activity?
  2. Does the city have control over the organization itself or how the money is being spent?
  3. Does the expenditure primarily benefit the public-at-large rather than just a private person or group?

5. The economic impact of our local taxing ability. 

The Kentucky Constitution, passed in 1891, does not allow local governments to collect sales taxes. That means local governments must depend heavily on property taxes and licensing fees (known as a payroll tax) and that out of every dollar paid in taxes 69 cents went to Frankfort while only 31 cents stayed in town.

All of Kentucky's neighboring states (with the exception of Indiana) allow local governments to levy sales taxes, which gives those governments greater freedom in raising revenue and lightens the burden on local taxpayers by allowing consumption taxes on noncitizens. 

That's a quick snapshot of just a portion of what we learned. However, I felt it was important to share because when we all understand more fully the resources available and challenges ahead, it makes moving forward together that much easier!

Sarah Holland