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Taxes passed – sparks fly

There was little fanfare as the McCreary County Fiscal Court officially passed the Occupational Tax Increase and installed a business license as part of a special called meeting Thursday night – until after the meeting – when the real fireworks started.

There was little fanfare as the McCreary County Fiscal Court officially passed the Occupational Tax Increase and installed a business license as part of a special called meeting Thursday night – until after the meeting – when the real fireworks started.
While the meeting itself lasted only eight minutes, upset citizens spent the better part of an hour voicing their concerns over the state of the county.
Only two significant issues were on the agenda for the meeting: the adoption of a business license, and the increase of the Occupational Tax rate by half a percent. Both measures had already withstood a first reading of their respective ordinance, and all that was needed to officially install the new laws was to have the second readings pass.
First up was the business license, which passed with a 5-0 vote, and only one slight change.
Magistrate Roger Phillips asked that the effective start date of the new ordinance be moved to July 1, as opposed to January 1 in the original wording. This change would allow the Fiscal Court time to notify businesses of the new requirement.
The business license, which requires local businesses to purchase and display a license, is designed to be a tool to assist the Occupational Tax Office to better track and identify businesses operating in the County and to ensure they are paying their share of the wages and profits tax.
The ordinance also contains language designed to curtail unauthorized roadside sales or impromptu flea markets.
Yard sales are not banned by the law; but it does stipulate such sales must be held on personally owned property, or with the written permission of the property owner.
The McCreary County Sheriff’s Department, Constables and the Occupational Tax Office will be tasked with enforcing the ordinance. A $50 fine has been established if a business is found to not be displaying the proper license. That fee will be turned over to the law enforcement agency performing the inspection.
Sheriff Randy Waters stated Friday he had not yet been approached by Judge Executive Doug Stephens about performing the inspections, but said his officers would “do our best to perform our job,” when asked if he was willing to enforce the ordinance.
Moving on to the Occupational Tax, before bringing the measure up for a vote Magistrate Jason Mann addressed the audience, noting his reason for advocating the tax increase.
“This is our last option,” Mann said. “We’ve looked at everything. I don’t want to lose Jimmy’s (Barnett and EMS) or the Sheriff’s services.”
With that said, a vote was called, and the measure passed 3-2, with Magistrates O.L. Perry and Roger Phillips, again, voting against. The two magistrates had voted against the first reading as well earlier this month.
The tax increase will go in to effect April 1, meaning all local businesses will be required to pay an additional half percent on their profits and workers will see the same amount deducted from their pay checks

Citizens in attendance had questions for the Court, but as it was a special called meeting, and the Fiscal Court could only discuss items on the agenda, Judge Stephens told audience members that he and members of the Fiscal Court would be available to answer questions after the meeting.
Mere seconds after the meeting adjourned, the citizens took the opportunity to speak out.
Tony Hansford voiced his opinion, saying he felt most citizens were not opposed to paying additional taxes as long as they could see County Officials actually had a definitive plan going forward.
Susie Strunk Thompson echoed the sentiment, directing a comment toward her Magistrate, O.L. Perry, stating his “no” vote on the tax increase was disheartening to her, as she had not seen any actions from him to provide alternative ideas.
Perry responded that throughout his campaign for the post, he vowed to not vote for any tax increase, and was not willing to go back on his word to the voters who elected him.
“If I turn around and vote (for the increase), then I’d be lying,” he said.
He then concluded by admitting he had no “major fixes” in mind at the moment.
Darlene Price took the floor next and brought up several issues, including mold at the courthouse and outstanding debt, but when the discussion turned to the decision to close the jail in 2012 things got heated.
“Was there anything the Fiscal Court could do to keep the jail open,” Price asked.
Judge Stephens replied that there was constant work to correct physical issues identified by DOC inspections, but reiterated the reason for the closure of the facility came at the demand of the DOC and placed the blame on the management by then-Jailer Tony Ball.
“There came a point where the DOC called me and said ‘do not spend any more money fixing this jail’,” Stephens said. “The jail was not closed because of its physical condition.”
As Price pointed out a list of items needing correcting, Deputy Judge Andrew Powell interceded.
“Why are we continuing to debate the closure of the jail?” he asked. “The jail is closed. Nothing is going to reopen that jail.”
Price stated the Fiscal Court’s decision to close the jail in 2012 has an impact on the need to increase taxes five years later and contended the Fiscal Court did not do enough at that time to try and keep the facility operating.
Powell referenced a letter from Department of Corrections Director Jeff Burton, dated December 11, 2012, where he outlined the DOC’s rationale for calling for the facility to be closed.
The letter outlined six escapes over the past several months, with four of them not being reported to the DOC immediately as is required by law. It cited a lack of management and not conforming to jail standards of health and safety.

The letter also noted Jailer Ball was given two opportunities to submit a corrective action plan, and failed to do so each time.
Price pointed out that Ball’s lack of action did not prevent the County from taking action.
“At one point the county could have taken measures,” she said.
Judge Stephens noted the DOC informed him that they would “work” with the county once Jailer Ball was out of office.
“It is unfortunate that they are raising taxes,” Powell concluded. “Something has to happen or the entire county shuts down.”
Discussion turned to the possibility of building a new jail, which most agreed would be the best option moving forward, but Powell noted Knox County’s struggles with the DOC in being able to move forward with a new planned facility.
He also pointed out building a jail isn’t as simple as deciding to construct one.
“The Department of Corrections decides if you can build a jail,” he said.
The next regular scheduled meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court will be on April 13 at 6:00 p.m.

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