Going out to eat, or through a fast-food drive through could become a little more pricey if the McCreary County Fiscal Court opts to implement a 3-percent restaurant tax in the coming months.
Magistrate Jason Mann advanced the idea during Thursday’s meeting of the Fiscal Court, claiming something needed to be done to shore up the worsening financial issues facing county government.
“Everyone knows what kind of shape our budget is,” Mann said. “I know it is not going to be popular, but if you sit up here and see what we see – we don’t have any other choice.”
Mann is proposing an ordinance that would tack on a 3-percent surcharge for every restaurant, deli or establishment that prepares and sells food in McCreary County.
The tax, Mann said, would be fair for everyone.
“It is the easy way, where everybody pays,” he said.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens rallied to support the proposal, citing the need for additional funding to augment tourism and economic development efforts in the county.
McCreary County has been without an Economic Development Director since the dismissal of Susan Stephens in June of last year and a full-time Tourism Director since Tara Chaney resigned in December, 2014.
“Without a strong tourism and economic development effort, we are backing up,” Stephens said.
“It (the tax) is a very fair and equitable way of doing that.”
Mann said he had been told an estimated $300,000 could be raised annually by the tax, which he proposed would be used to pay for a Tourism Director, Economic Development Director and pay for deputies, which would allow the funding allocated in the current budget to be used for other purposes.
Currently more than $54,000 is included in the budget for the tourism and economic positions, and $63,465 is allocated to fund deputies for the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department.
According to Kentucky Revised Statute 91A.400, which allows the implementation of a restaurant tax, any revenues collected from the tax shall be turned over to the tourist and convention commission.
That funding is to be only spent on tourism related activities, so a combined Tourism/Economic Development position could be created and funded through the tax, but it remains to be seen if funding deputies can be considered part of tourism/economic development.
Magistrate Roger Phillips said he respected his fellow Magistrate for showing leadership, but could not support such a tax based on his belief that the current administration cannot be trusted to handle funds.
“I don’t trust the administration enough to know the money goes where it should,” Phillips said.
Phillips noted a recent issue with park rental fees not being allocated to the Park Board and spent on other bills, and claimed work done at the reservoir was done using money from the General Fund without the Fiscal Court’s approval.
Deputy Judge Andrew Powell was quick to come to the defense of his “pet project,” as he claimed, stating the funding was approved by the Court and the money came from the Secure Rural Schools funding, which is stipulated must be spent on projects related to the U.S. Park Service.
Judge Stephens added most of the work was funded through the McCreary County Water District.
With discussion at an end, Mann made a motion to allow Judge Stephens to draft an ordinance establishing a restaurant tax and present it to the Fiscal Court at the next meeting.
The vote passed 3-2, with Magistrates Phillips and Perry voting against.
Such an ordinance would have to pass two readings in Fiscal Court, and a public hearing held, before it could be enacted in to law.
In related news Magistrate Mann, who earlier tabled discussion on re-advertising the part-time tourism position as an administrative assistant position, forwarded the motion again as a temporary position. The motion died from lack of a second.
In other Fiscal Court actions Thursday:
The Court accepted the tax rates from the McCreary County Public Library and Health District as part of the preparation to set the County tax rates.
While the Health tax rate will remain the same – 4 cents on $100, the Library rate will actually drop as the Library Board of Directors opted to take the compensating rate. The new tax rate for the Library will be 7.6 cents per $100 of personal property and 1.76 cents per $100 on motor vehicles.
Representatives from the five fire districts were not on hand to present their rates, which are expected to remain the same at 10 cents per $100, and the Soil and Water Conservation District representative was not present either. Last year the Soil tax rate was at 1.7 cents.
A special meeting has been called for September 23 at 11:00 a.m. to accept the special taxing district’s rates and set the County rate. The delay is due to the fact that the Board of Education is not expected to set their rates until September 22.
The County tax rates set last year were with real property set at 9.50 and Motor Vehicle and Watercraft set at 20.40 cents per $100.
The Fiscal Court passed a resolution to close one of the railroad crossings at Highway 1651 near Century lane. Norfolk Southern requested the closure of the southernmost crossing, but promised to erect railroad crossing lights and bars at the remaining crossing and to give the County $35,000 for roadway improvement at the location.
The Court also agreed to make Club House Road in Stearns one-way, citing the road was too narrow for two-way traffic.
Magistrate Mann asked former Tourism Director and Web Administrator Adam Phillips about the County website, which has been redirecting to the tourism page since his resignation.
Phillips informed the Court that both the County site and the Heritage Trails Days site were registered by him, but when he resigned he gave authorization to Deputy Judge Randy Jones to take over both sites.
Phillips noted he gave Jones the “keys” to both sites, and directed him on whom to contact to take over operations. Phillips said it was not until last week when he was contacted by the domain hosting company to authorize the transfer.
“I don’t know what more I can do,” Philips said, noting when he responded to the email authorizing the transfer it was out of his hands.
Apparently the issue has yet to be resolved. As of Wednesday the County website: www.mccrearycounty.com, still redirects to the tourism page.