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Chrisman v. Cumberland Coach Lines

June 13, 1952


Clay, Commissioner


This is a submitted controversy under section 637 of the Civil Code of Practice. The question presented is whether or not the City of Cumberland may acquire, own and operate a bus system by the issuance of revenue bonds under the provisions of Chapter 58, Kentucky Revised Statutes. The Chancellor approved the proposal.

Cumberland, a city of the fourth class, is located on U. S. Highway 119 between Harlan and Whitesburg. Adjacent and adjoining the city are the unincorporated settlements of Lynch and Benham. The composite area forms a single community of approximately 16,000 to 18,000 people. Coal mining is the prominent industry, and the local transportation system plays an important part in the life and work of the community.

For more than 15 years Cumberland Coach Lines, a private corporation, has operated a public transportation system in and through Cumberland, Lynch and Benham. It also furnishes a service to and from Whitesburg and Harlan, each approximately 22 miles from Cumberland.

Like so many other businesses (and individuals), the bus company's ability to operate at a fair profit is being threatened by increasing federal tax burdens, and it is willing to sell out to the city. The latter visualizes that because of tax exemptions it may be able to manage the system more economically for the benefit of its citizens. Whether or not this is simply a mirage, we express no opinion.

In 1946 the legislature enacted Chapter 58 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes. KRS 58.020 provides in part:

'A governmental agency acting separately or jointly with one or more of any such agency, may acquire, construct, maintain, add to and improve any public project as defined in KRS 58.010, which public project may be located within or without or partly within and partly without the territorial limits of such governmental agency or agencies, * * *.'

KRS 58.010(1) provides:

'Public project' means any lands, buildings or structures, works or facilities suitable for and intended for use as public property for public purposes or suitable for and intended for use in the promotion of the public health, public welfare or the conservation of natural resources, including the planning of any such lands, buildings, structures, works or facilities, and shall also include existing lands, buildings, structures, works and facilities, as well as improvements or additions to any such lands, buildings, structures, works or facilities.'

It is shown by the record that the entire economy of the City of Cumberland, as well as that of the adjoining communities, is closely interwoven with the mining industry. The local transportation system furnishes a necessary service in transporting persons to and from their places of work. The livelihood and the living conditions of a substantial number of the city's citizens are dependent upon this facility. It certainly advances the public welfare, and its public nature has long been recognized by the Commonwealth in subjecting it to regulation through the Department of Motor Transportation.

The legislature has heretofore authorized a city to operate a street omnibus system. KRS 96.189. This statute relates only to third class cities, but indicates a legislative recognition of the fact that such a facility is within the class of those public utilities a municipality may properly acquire and operate.

In Faulconer v. City of Danville, 313 Ky. 468, 232 S.W.2d 80, while another statute was principally involved, we discussed the factors which enter into the determination of whether or not a particular project is truly public in nature. We said, 313 Ky. at page 472, 232 S.W.2d at page 82:

'The legislative determination of what is a public purpose will not be interfered with by the courts unless the judicial mind conceives it to be without reasonable relation to the public interest or welfare and to be without the scope of legitimate government.'

We think there can be no doubt that the legislature would have had power and authority to specifically designate a local bus system as one of the public projects which might lawfully be acquired by a governmental agency. Our question then is simply whether or not the definitive language used in KRS 58.010(1) manifests a ...

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