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Time Running Out on Budget

With just over four months remaining before the end of the fiscal year and a projected $300,000 budget shortfall facing McCreary County, there still is no official word on an expected special session of the Fiscal Court to address ways to raise additional revenue.

Judge Executive Doug Stephens said he is looking at a possibility of a meeting called for next Thursday, February 23, but that date is not yet official.

With time running out before the June 30th deadline of having a balanced budget, the Fiscal Court appears to have only two options to either cut spending or raise revenue before a possible shut down.

The first would be to make severe and drastic cuts to an already thin budget.

Judge Stephens had previously stated he would put together a list of possible budget cuts for the Court to consider, but warned they would not be popular things to cut. Such things as the Ambulance Service, 911 and other services are not mandated by the State for the County to provide, and as such, could be cut.

Such a move is unlikely, as Stephens has repeatedly said he had no intention of cutting essential services.

The other option would be an increase of the Occupational Tax rate.

Through January Occupational Tax collections have averaged around 86,000 per month. If that average holds the 12-month total can be projected to about $1,035,000- about $35,000 more than the $1 million anticipated in the budget.

With the need to erase an estimated shortfall of about $300,000 projected for the end of the fiscal year, the Occupational Tax rate may have to be doubled to raise enough revenue on its own by the end of June.

Raising the OC Tax to 2 percent for the final four months of the fiscal year would bring in about $327,000 additional income for the County, which would cover the deficit.

Raising the rate to just 1.8 percent, as was included in an earlier proposal drafted by Judge Stephens and never presented or voted on by the Fiscal Court, only about $261,000 would be raised, which would fall a little short of the projected deficit.

If the court were to consider raising the rate, it would have to come in the form of either a new ordinance, or an amendment to the existing one. In either case, at least two readings of the ordinance in a public meeting would have to be held before it could be enacted.

Magistrate Jason Mann implied last week he would be more inclined to vote for a tax increase if the revenue garnered from the tax would be dedicated toward building a new jail facility, or at least toward jail costs.

Judge Stephens is not in favor of dedicating the money toward a new jail, stating it would tie the money up and would not be able to solve the current budget issues.

Another tax possibility that could come before the Fiscal Court is the divisive Insurance Premium tax.

Such a tax, if enacted, would not begin generating revenue until October, at least, and would do nothing to solve the deficit problem before the end of the fiscal year.

The tax has met much resistance from the population, and at last week’s meeting of the fiscal court Judge Stephens hasdbacked off his support of the ordinance, saying if he were to even propose such a bill, he would exclude health insurance premiums from the language of the law, and is not able to estimate how much revenue could be gained.

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