No action was taken during Thursday’s Fiscal Court meeting that would eliminate the projected
$350,000 budget shortfall.
Possible tax increases still loom on the horizon as nothing was accomplished to solve the financial crisis the County is facing.
Judge Stephens included three items on the agenda that addressed the problem and outlined possible solutions.
The first item, “Discuss possible budget cuts,” did not make it make it to the floor for discussion.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens opened the item by stating he had searched for ways to make up the deficit by examining the current budget.
“Our approach is to look at what we can cut and then look at other options,” he said.
Magistrate Jason Mann asked to table the discussion, requesting the Court ask the Department for Local Government to visit with county officials to examine the budget and advise them what needed to be done.
Moving to the next item Stephens prefaced the talk with a brief explanation on the different funds established and how money allocated to those areas can be used. He explained that once money is allocated to the funds it cannot be transferred to another fund for use elsewhere.
He stated he had a list of possible cuts, which would not cut essential services, but additional revenue of about $70,000 each month would be needed to cover the expected loss.
“I do not see anywhere we can cut the budget that will cover the deficit,” he said.
Some of the possible cuts Judge Stephens was prepared to bring to the floor for discussion included cutting pay and travel expenses for the Judge, magistrates and Jailer, totaling about $17,000, eliminating the part time Deputy Judge Executive with a cost of $5,657, cutting $2,500 in support for the Rescue Squad, eliminating the $6,600 payment to the Lake Cumberland Drug Task Force, $1,101 in fuel allowance for constables, $9,538 for a County Attorney Secretary position, eliminating the pay for deputies – totaling $56,116 and taking $30,000 from the Ambulance Equipment Replacement Fund.
Together the cuts amounted to $129,207 – still more than $220,000 less than what would be required to meet the projected budget shortfall.
Stephens introduced a new Occupational Tax ordinance that would increase the salary and profits tax to 1.8 percent, from the established 1 percent in place since 2004.
The ordinance included a provision that the increased rate would revert back to the 1 percent threshold on January 1, 2018, “if an insurance premium tax ordinance is in effect.”
Calling for a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, the Judge was met with silence as none of the four magistrates were willing to do so- killing the proposal without any discussion.
“In my estimation this prevents the Court from balancing the budget,” Stephens said.
Next, Stephens introduced a new ordinance, one imposing a 7 percent tax on certain types of insurance premiums, with all revenues generated to be dedicated to the Jail Fund. (Please see accompanying article detailing the ordinance for more information.)
Again, stony silence met the Judge as he called for a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, and the motion died for lack of action.
“I think failure to do this will eliminate our ability to function as a County,” Stephens said.
With no actions taken on the budget the meeting settled back in to a normal routine until coming to the citizen participation portion of the agenda.
Cathy King started discussion by stating while she did not oppose paying an Occupational Tax, she was not pleased when the Fiscal Court amended the law to place all revenue generated through the tax in the General Fund and away from the areas originally funded when the ordinance was established in 2004. (Park, Jail, Economic Development, etc.)
Judge Stephens noted the Court did so on the advice of DLG. The money, he said, would have been locked in to those funds, and would not have been able to be used where needed.
“If we had not done so, we’d have been dead in the water a long time ago,” he said.
King concluded by saying she felt the tax was unfair since not everyone was paying.
Page Bryant asked about the status of prison and federal employees not paying the occupational tax on their wages.
Occupational Tax Administrator Stephanie Tucker stated the majority of those employees are paying now, but could not give a concrete percentage on those who are not paying. Tucker did state she is preparing to send out more notices to individuals who are not paying.
Discussion turned to ways of alleviating the housing issue with prisoners, with some ideas about reducing jail time for arrestees who may be able to bond out.
County Attorney Conley Chaney noted that many arrests from bench warrants for failure to appear or non-payment of fines are issued by the Circuit or District Courts, and officers have a duty to make an arrest when coming across an individual with such a warrant pending.
He did note that most of those warrants do come with a bond fee attached, and individuals could possibly post that bond and be released prior to being transported to jail.
Sheriff Randy Waters noted that the Whitley County Detention Center had recently been allowing those individuals who were able to immediately make that bond payment to be processed through their facility.
It was discussed that there may be a possibility for transport officers be trained to take such bond payments, thus saving the County money on some housing costs.
Sheriff Waters commented that all County officials need to get together and try to figure out possible courses of actions to take.
Judge Stephens welcomed the idea.
“It’s easy to blame all the budget problems on me,” Stephens concluded. “I try to do whatever I can, but I need help.”
The next scheduled meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court will be on Tuesday, February 7 at 6 p.m. The meeting date had to be changed due to a conflict with a training conference for the Judge Executive and magistrates on the normal meeting date. As such it will be considered a special called meeting and only items on the agenda can be discussed.