17.7 percent of Kentuckians qualify for food stamps

More than one Kentuckian in six — 17.7 percent —  qualifies for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly the Food Stamp Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said recently.
The agency said that 757,651 Kentuckians are now receiving assistance through the program.

That’s up 13 percent from last year.

“The beauty of the program is that it expands and contracts based on economic conditions,” the agency said in a news release.

Since April, federal stimulus dollars have provided additional $159,253,929 in benefits and administrative support to Kentucky and its citizens, the report said.

Stimulus dollars now give each family of four an additional $80 a month to buy food, it said.

Kentucky also received more than $2 million in food and administrative expenses to support local food banks, pantries and soup kitchens, the report said, and more than $1.7 million to help schools provide nutritious and safe meals.

Nationally, the program is serving more than 38 million people each month.

Is recession propelling more city-county mergers?

The National Association of Counties says the nation’s slumping economy may create more interest in city-county mergers. Here’s the article:

As state and local governments face a slumping economy that shows no immediate signs of improvement, the issue of efficiently providing services becomes even more critical. The usual options of service cuts or tax increases rarely produce a long-term solution and are unpopular with constituents.

A third option to address the fiscal challenges of local governance is an approach often discussed but rarely adopted: city-county consolidation.

 Currently, fewer than 40 consolidated city-county governments exist nationwide even though hardly a year has gone by since 1902 without local governments considering consolidation, taking proposals to the ballot more than 150 times.

 Over the past two decades, consolidation plans have been proposed in more than 40 regions. Approximately 30 percent of those proposals were successful.

 Is it possible that current economic conditions will drive more consolidation efforts? Some recent information suggests that they will.

 Pennsylvania

 In 2006, faced with considerable economic decline in the region, Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh found themselves discussing the possibility of consolidation. An advisory committee, jointly announced by the mayor and the county chief executive, was formed to explore the option. Studies conducted before the committee’s formation already encouraged small steps to be taken by both sides, like encouraging the establishment of a joint purchasing agreement to strengthen bidding power.

The advisory committee’s findings, released in 2008, suggest that a more unified approach to address the fiscal and administrative challenges facing the two entities and the region is needed. Since then, no official steps toward consolidation have been taken.

 New York

 In 2005, Erie County and the city of Buffalo viewed consolidation as a means to combine resources and revive the region. While talks between the two have since cooled, local government consolidation was recently brought to the forefront at the state level. In June 2009, Gov. David Paterson signed a local government consolidation bill into law. The law firmly puts the consolidation process into the voters’ hands and cleared the path for counties to consolidate or dissolve local governments as long as they have majority support from residents. New York has more than 10,000 local governments in the form of counties, cities, towns, villages and special districts. Supporters argued that the new law would help address taxpayers’ frustration with the myriad of levels that often result in redundant, inefficient and wasteful provision of services.

 Mississippi

 In December, Adams County officials reportedly began considering consolidation with the city of Natchez. County and city resolutions supporting the move would be integral to starting the process since new state legislation would be needed before any steps to consolidate can be made. Although no official study has begun, county supervisors supporting consolidation argue it would save taxpayer money and allow for the efficient delivery of services.

 Georgia

 Georgia, by far, is the leader among the states in terms of the number of city-county consolidations. In the last five years alone, at least three city-county consolidation proposals have passed in Georgia. The movement of a fourth proposal, between Bibb County and the city of Macon, is slowly gaining momentum. Struggling with the state of the local economy, officials from both sides acknowledge significant measures are necessary. Some departments have already taken early steps, known as functional consolidation, as members from the City Council and County Board combined specific operations as part of a revamped service delivery strategy. Both Bibb Commission Chairman Sam Hart and Macon Mayor Robert Reichert are now urging that they move forward for a consolidated city-county government. The current plan would have the two governments merge in stages over a 10-year span.

North Carolina

Although not a city-county consolidation, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County provide an excellent model of functional consolidation. This occurs when two entities agree on the functional consolidation of services; in this case, either Charlotte or Mecklenburg County delivers a particular service countywide. Although political divisions continue to prevent the completion of a city-county consolidation, the CharMeck model has become a well known success in terms of governance and regional economic leadership.

Illinois

 In the most recent example of consolidation proposals, the city of Peoria and Peoria County have jumped into the fray in late January. Reduced budgets and rising costs have spurred Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis to point to the need to operate more efficiently with fewer tax dollars. Peoria County Board President Tom O’Neill agreed with the general notion, adding that acting as a unified body is in the best interests of central Illinois residents. Other County Board members also reacted positively to the suggestion; some even acknowledged that there are areas of duplication of services that provide opportunities for consolidation. A joint committee of city and county officials will begin the process by first exploring how the services in those areas can be combined. While the concept of consolidation is nothing new, there is not enough empirical data to definitively answer whether consolidation increases efficiency and saves money. Opponents suggest that consolidation is not worth the effort, citing the threat of losing local control and data from prior consolidations that show costs actually increased. Supporters counter with the argument that costs will inevitably increase in the short term since providing local government services is labor intensive, and that cost savings would eventually be experienced through streamlining functions and departments. But more appealing to supporters, beyond potential cost savings and increased efficiency, is having a single regional vision. They feel eliminating the pursuit of diverging interests, a result of having two or more local governments serving the same constituents, is increasingly alluring if regions are to survive the current fiscal storm and thrive once it is over.

Disabled veterans get 3 free nights in state parks

Kentucky veterans who have been totally and permanently disabled as a result of their military service can stay in Kentucky state parks for up to three nights a year now at no charge.

That’s a result of legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear.

“Kentucky’s military men and women have an unparalleled reputation for courage and commitment,” Beshear said in a news release. “We can never fully repay such service. But we can make decisions to show in tangible ways our gratitude.”

He said: “Kentucky has top-notch parks built around some of the most beautiful landscapes in the nation. This small gesture makes that beauty available to those who have given so much to this state.”

“We must always strive to honor those brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to our commonwealth and our country,” said Sen. Elizabeth Tori, R-Radcliff.  “This legislation is but a small token of our appreciation.”

Dueling legislators

The Kentucky House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs approved Tuesday a bill by state Rep. Darryl Owens, a Louisville Democrat, to remove language about dueling from the state’s oath of office.

The oath currently says: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of Secretary of State according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”

 State officials have sworn that oath when taking office since 1891.

 Owens’ bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Are local romances affected by recession?

The Great Recession has dragged on for two years now. The local unemployment rate has been at levels we haven’t seen in 25 years.

How is that affecting romantic relationships in the area?

Are people delaying marriage until the economy improves?

 Are struggling couples postponing divorce until times get better?

Nope.

And nope.

Records at the Daviess County Clerk’s office show 737 marriage licenses issued in 2007 — before the recession officially began.

In 2008, with the recession starting to kick in, the clerk’s office issued 732 licenses.

And last year, when unemployment was at its peak, 735 couples picked up a license.

At the Daviess County Circuit Clerk’s office, 450 divorces were recorded in 2007.

The next year, there were 453 divorces.

And last year, there were 448.

 In both marriage licenses and divorces, there was only a fluctuation of five cases between the highs and the lows for the period.

“That’s pretty amazing,” said County Clerk David “Oz” Osborne.

Candidates speak out

The Owensboro City Commission’s decision to allow candidates for public office to speak at City Commission meetings, as long as they don’t campaign for themselves, resulted in several candidates stepping to the microphone Tuesday.

Steve Moreland and Tom Morton, both Republican candidates for Daviess County judge-executive, spoke on various issues. Joining them at the mic were City Commission candidates Jim Lott and James Kamuf.

For the record, none of the candidates ran afoul of the rule against campaigning.

Other notes from Tuesday’s meeting:

• In answer to a question about revisions to the city’s fire ordinance, Fire Chief Steve Mitchell said the changes regarding open fires and the use of backyard fire pits will have no impact on chicken barbecues. Regulations are already in place for the big chicken barbecue pits so common around Owensboro during the summer months. “They notify us when they have them and we check them,” Mitchell said.

• The city hopes the transfer of Ben Hawes State Park to the city will take place around March 20, City Attorney Ed Ray said.

City Manager Bill Parrish said the city now has about 1,000 fans on its Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/CityofOwensboro).

Governor asks employees for help in cutting budget

If you’re a state employee, Gov. Steve Beshear needs your help in cutting the budget.

Beshear said Wednesday that he’s asking state employees for suggestions on ways to cut costs— and save jobs.

The governor’s office sent an e-mail to all state employees Wednesday, asking for their ideas on where to make the cuts.
“We need people from all levels and areas to take a look around and let us know if they think their agency or any other areas of state government could be operating more efficiently,” Beshear said in a news release. “Every dollar we can save through these cost-saving measures will help preserve jobs.”

The  state’s Employee Suggestion System, an online project administered by the Personnel Cabinet since 1981, “accepts suggestions from merit employees who have proposals for ways to improve government operations and save money,” the news release said.

If an employee’s suggestion is implemented, he or she may be eligible for a cash reward. 

In the past, non-merit employees have not been able to offer comments through the site. But Beshear’s office said the site will now “offer the means to collect input from non-merit employees, although they will not be eligible for cash rewards.”

Nonmerit employees are those whose jobs are not protected by the state’s merit system. They include cabinet and deputy secretaries, commissioners, directors, public-affairs officers, attorneys and others who serve at the governor’s discretion.

“The state workforce is comprised of employees who care deeply about the efficiency and resourcefulness of their agencies, so who better to ask for input and ideas than our employees,” Nikki Jackson, secretary of the Personnel Cabinet, said in the news release.

“During the past two years alone, the savings realized by implementing employee suggestions has totaled $2.1 million,” she said.

Beshear is trying to close a $1.5 billion spending gap this time.
But every little bit helps.

State employees can submit their suggestions at http://personnel.ky.gov.