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Balancing Act

Fiscal Court passes first reading of budget


In a special session last Friday afternoon the McCreary County Fiscal Court got their first look at a revised 2016-17 Budget, and passed the first reading with only a few questions along the way.

The Court will have to meet again before the end of June to pass the second reading before the budget becomes official, and changes can be made up until that point.

The budget had to be balanced and a first reading approved in order to send the budget to Frankfort for state approval before a second reading can be undertaken.

A fully balanced budget must be passed and in place before June 30 under state law.

But before budget talks could begin, Magistrate O.L. Perry made a motion to approve the minutes of the last Fiscal Court meeting, but to exclude one motion on approving the contract with the McCreary County Extension Agency.

Magistrate Roger Phillips questioned the agreement, noting the overall increase in cost to the county was over $9,000, when they were originally told it was only $4,000. He also noted he would like to see a more detailed breakdown of that particular budget to see where the money would be spent.

“I don’t understand how we can give a raise to them when we can’t give our own employees a raise,” Phillips said.

Judge Stephens promised he would obtain a detailed break-down and present it to the Court at the next meeting.

Judge Executive Doug Stephens then opened the discussion on the budget by saying he and his staff had worked the previous week to make up the projected $450,000 shortfall in the budget presented to the Court at their last regular meeting.

At that time, Stephens indicated there may need for additional revenue to be brought in, such as a possible tax increase, but the budget presented Friday did not contain a shortfall, and no talk of taxes were present.

There are a lot of issues,” Stephens said. “There was a lot of struggles to where we could present you with a balanced budget.”

Stephens said he and EMS/911 Director Jimmy Barnett had gone over some calculations and estimated that implementing the non-emergency transfer service through the Ambulance Service would bring in $350,000 in the coming year.

At a previous meeting the Fiscal Court granted Barnett permission to begin looking at implementing the service to bring additional revenue.

Barnett had stated that other ambulance services, such as in Pulaski and Laurel Counties, are often asking for assistance in conducting patient transfers, such as from the hospital to a nursing home, and dedicating an ambulance and crew solely to such duties could be a positive revenue generator for the county.

Judge Stephens cautioned the $350,000 number is just a projection, but “hopefully very doable.”

Another $150,000 was shaved off the Jail Fund budget by adjusting the estimated cost of housing inmates over the next 12 months.

Stephens stated the revised number was based on the average amount spent over the past three years. He also noted conversations with County Attorney Conley Chaney and Sheriff Randy Waters indicated some changes could be forthcoming that would help alleviate some of the costs with housing.

Again, the Judge cautioned that the expected cost is only a projection, and could increase as the year progresses.

“We will do what it takes to keep it within that (number),” Stephens said. “Hopefully we will know within the first few months.”

Earlier this month, when the first proposed Jail budget was released the estimated housing cost was estimated to be $750,000 – based on what was expected to be spent this current fiscal year.

Magistrate Roger Phillips questioned the current budget, noting the Judge had stated last week that the County would end the current fiscal year about $300,000 over budget.

Stephens replied that he and his staff had “gone through the budget line by line” and looked at what was actually spent as opposed to what was budgeted. Even with some line items going over projections, many budget items came in under budget, apparently enough to make up the $300,000 difference and end the year without a shortfall.

“So, it’s enough to even out?” Phillips asked.

“It is,” Stephens replied.

The Fiscal Court voted 5-0 to approve the first reading of the budget, with Phillips noting: “As long as we are breaking even, it’s fine with me.”

Discussion next turned to the approval of the employee salary schedule for the coming year.

Judge Stephens noted retirement and workers compensation costs increased over last year, but he had gone through and zeroed out insurance costs for those employees who have opted out of the insurance program.

Before the vote was called, Phillips questioned the inclusion of a Economic and Community Development/Tourism Director on the schedule, noting he believed businesses looking to locate in McCreary County would rather speak directly to the Judge Executive.

Stephens countered, stating he advised keeping the position on the schedule in case the Fiscal Court ever decided to hire a new person for the role.

He further noted he had combined the two positions as a means of saving salary costs.

The position calls for a base salary of $35,500 per year, and $53,2000 with benefits.

The next part of the discussion centered on having two part-time Deputy Judges.

Citizen Scottie Morrow asked for an explanation on the need for two positions, and asked how Stephens could save money by having both positions on the payroll.

Stephens said by having the two part-time positions, and combining the Finance Officer position with one of the titles, money is actually being saved as opposed to having a full time deputy and Finance Officer.

Judge Stephens stated the two positions deal with different duties. Deputy Judge Andrew Powell, he noted, focused on grant writing and special projects, and only worked on one to two days a week.

Deputy Judge Randy Jones, on the other hand, deals with day to day operations and is able to make executive decisions when Judge Stephens isn’t available, as well as performing the duties of Financial Officer.

Powell, it was noted, only works a few hours each week, and has only $9,972 allocated for salary in the budget.

The salary schedule was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Magistrates Phillips and Jason Mann voting against.

The next regular scheduled meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court will be on June 9.

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