By Greg Bird
Last Thursday’s Fiscal Court meeting was not as controversial as last month’s but Judge Executive Doug Stephens and Magistrates still got an earful of complaints over the passage of a new tax imposed by the McCreary County Extension Board last month.
And it appears that the Fiscal Court may have had the option to stop the tax before it was added to the tax roles.
During the citizens participation portion of the meeting Bill Shook kicked things off with his thoughts on the Fiscal Court’s role in the tax.
Shook said he placed the responsibility for the tax at the feet of the Fiscal Court who formed the Board in 2014, and took no actions to prevent the tax.
Shook stated he felt the tax was unfair, and stated he felt every member of the Court should resign over allowing the tax to pass.
Shook stated he intended to pay his property taxes, but would not pay the extension tax. Sheriff Randy Waters stated his office could not accept partial payments.
Darlene Price asked for clarification on the timeline of events leading up to the tax being made public last month.
It was stated that the Board voted to pass the tax in February and the Fiscal Court was aware of the tax when they passed the 2017-18 budget in June, which did not include the typical funding of the extension office.
Magistrate Roger Phillips stated he was made aware of the tax prior to the budget discussions in June, but believed the Extension Board would only set their rate to equal what the County would have budgeted for the service, about $50,000 annually.
He said he was unaware that the Board had set the rate as high as they did, nearly quadrupling their budget, until last month.
Phillips further commented that the Fiscal Court had asked the County Attorney for his advice on the possibility of abolishing the board to stop the tax.
County Attorney Conley Chaney reiterated what he said at last month’s meeting, specifically that in his opinion the Fiscal Court could not vote to abolish the Extension Board under the current statute as they did not meet the criteria to warrant dissolving.
However, Price has since released evidence that the Fiscal Court did have the authority to abolish the board. Price cites KRS Statute 67.715 which states “the county judge/executive or county judges/executive of multicounty districts may, with the approval of the fiscal court or fiscal courts, create any special district or abolish or combine any special district, provided the district was created solely by the county judge/executive or county judge/executives or solely by one or more such fiscal courts.”
Further, an Attorney General ruling from 1980 affirms this authority, noting the Fiscal Court can dissolve an extension board as long as a public hearing is held and all liabilities and contractual obligations of the district were settled prior to the dissolution.
In other Fiscal Court actions Thursday:
County Attorney Conley Chaney informed the Fiscal Court that he had been in discussions with Whitley County Jailer Brian Lawson about the possibility of housing local prisoners at his facility.
Chaney said while the move may not be a financial savings for the county, as the higher housing cost would be offset by the lower fuel cost, it would still be a positive move for the county.
Primarily, Chaney noted, the shorter distance and safer roadway would ease liability concerns. With most current inmates being transported to Leslie County, a three-hour drive under normal conditions, the upcoming winter weather increases safety concerns for the transport officers and prisoners being transferred.
One concern Jailer Lawson had, Chaney stated, was the potential for late payment over housing costs.
It was noted that the County no longer was struggling to pay bills on time, and the only issues with some Leslie County payments were created by invoice errors that needed to be corrected before payment could be remitted.
Chaney indicated Lawson requested the County possibly paying for inmate housing in advance, but that practice would be inadvisable under current statutes.
However, Chaney noted, the Fiscal Court could adopt a continuing resolution allowing for the payment of housing bills, up to a certain amount, which would enable the County to pay bills as soon as they are received rather that waiting until the Fiscal Court meets monthly to authorize the payment.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens did state that the company conducting the jail feasibility study has visited the county recently to begin gathering data to determine the best possible course of action for the county regarding the future of prisoner housing.
There has been no definitive timetable established as of yet for a conclusion of the study.
The Fiscal Court also discussed the recent news concerning the merger of the McCreary County Rescue Squad with the local fire departments.
Emergency Management Director Stephen McKinney stated the squad was not being abandoned, merely moving under a different governing body. McKinney said the duties and responsibilities of search and rescue operations would be shared among the members of all five local fire departments, offering quicker response time and broader coverage.
Lonnie Brown, Chief of the Rescue Squad thanked the Fiscal Court and McCreary County citizens for their support of the squad over the years and noted the Rescue Squad had the fourth highest response volume in the state with 145 runs already this year.
The McCreary County Fiscal Court will meet again in regular session on Thursday, November 9 at 6:00 p.m.