The city of Benham joined with Cumberland and Lynch when they agreed to a feasibility study of the merging of the three cities during a meeting on Thursday.
Mayor Wanda Humphrey called on Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bruce Ayers to advise the council on the subject.
Ayers said he was present in the place of Bobbie Gothard, who could not attend.
“Bobbie is ill, but if she’d been here, she would have been representing the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce,” Ayers said. “Since she couldn’t be here, and I’m the executive director of the chamber, I’ve decided I would come and help her out.”
Ayers said the chamber has been interested in working with the cities for some time.
“Mayor, I believe I may have mentioned this to you six months ago, working with the cities to look at the issue of merging the three,” Ayers said. “We had talked to the Frazier Foundation about providing support for that program. Support that would allow us to hire a consultant.”
Ayers said the consultant would work with the cities for possibly a year in order to look into all aspects of a merger.
“Some of what they would look at…would focus on ways in which major department – police, fire, water, sewer and maintenance operations – could be combined,” Ayers said. “It would detail how our services would be offered, what savings would accrue, if personnel layoffs would be necessary and if so if they could be handled through attrition and finally it would outline the shape the new government could take and how and on what basis council members and the mayor would be elected.”
Ayers said the study would also look into the possible of acquiring a city manager.
“This is no way obligates you,” Ayers pointed out. “It simply presents all the information from experts that know about merger and could come in and look at these communities and tell you what a merged government would look like.”
Humphrey asked about the cities keeping their identities.
“It depends on the recommendation of the consultant, that could very well happen,” Ayers said. “Look at Lexington and Fayette County, they are merged. They are one, but they still maintain some separation.”
After some discussion, a motion was passed with no opposition to accept the resolution.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde.