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Fiscal Court may abolish Extension Board

The McCreary County Extension Board, responsible for imposing the latest tax on McCreary County citizens, may soon be a thing of the past if some members of
Fiscal Court have their say.

By Greg Bird

During Monday’s special called meeting of the Fiscal Court, during a discussion of appointing two members to the Extension Board, Magistrate Roger Phillips stated he had spoken to representatives from the Department of Local Government who had informed him that the Fiscal Court could indeed take action in abolishing the Extension Board – thus eliminating the possibility of the tax recurring for the next year.

Phillips stated he learned that the procedure to abolish a Special Purpose Government Entity, such as the Extension Board, would take about three months, as a public meeting and two readings of an ordinance would be required.

Any action by the Fiscal Court at this time would not impact the current tax, as it is already being collected and disbursed to the Extension Service, but it would prevent the tax from being continued next year.

The Magistrate noted he was not against the Extension Service, and believed it provided a needed resource for the county, but he felt the Board “blindsided” the Fiscal Court and the citizens with the amount of the tax imposed.

“If they had went about what we had in the budget, it would have been fine,” he stated. “But they went about four times as much.”

As a means to keep the Extension Service operating in McCreary County Phillips said he would like to find money in the next budget to provide funding for the service.

Magistrate Jason Mann agreed with Phillips’ blindsided statement and stated the Fiscal Court was aware that a tax was forthcoming, but were not aware of the amount when they eliminated the extension funding from the budget.

It was stated Monday that the Fiscal Court expected a tax rate of about 1 cent per $100 of value, which would have produced close to the same amount of revenue as had previously been included from the County.

The McCreary County Extension Service had previously been receiving about $50,000 annually from the Fiscal Court through the General Fund to pay for portions of the service’s operations, salaries and rent.

With the tax imposed by the Extension Board an estimated $192,000 in revenue for the current year was expected to be raised for the service.

An open records request for the minutes of the February meeting of the Extension Board show Judge Executive Doug Stephens informed the Board at the meeting that funding difficulties with the County Budget made it likely that the continuing funding of the service would be eliminated in the next fiscal year’s budget.

At that time the Board was informed by Anna Smith, Extension District 5 Director with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, that the Board did have the authority to implement their own tax as a special taxing district.

The minutes also state the Board was presented letters of opinion on behalf of County Attorney Conley Chaney and UK Extension Director of County Operations, Dr. Jeff Young, affirming the Board has the authority to levy a tax as a SPGE.

The McCreary County Fiscal Court established the Extension Board in 2015, which in effect, created a special taxing district

Smith further stated only 8 of the 120 Extension Services in Kentucky were receiving their funding from county governments at that time.

The Board unanimously voted during the February 16 meeting to impose a tax and to set the rate at 3.95 cents per $100 value tax on all real estate, tangible property, motor vehicles and watercraft beginning January 1, 2018.

The tax was not commonly known to the general public until September when County Clerk Eric Haynes received official notification of the tax about a week prior to the Fiscal Court setting the County tax rates. The Fiscal Court has no authority over special taxing districts rates, and can only accept those rates as presented.

Property Valuation Administrator Bruce Lominac filed an injunction to temporarily block the tax, giving the Fiscal Court the opportunity to abolish the Board and prevent the implementation of the tax.

On the advice of County Attorney Conley Chaney Fiscal Court took no action to do so as Chaney said the Board did not meet the criteria for abolishment under Kentucky Statutes.

Monday, Phillips conceded that the Fiscal Court could possibly have taken action to remove the Board at that time, but they did not do so on the advice of the County Attorney. He also noted that if the Fiscal Court had done so, it would have meant the end of the Extension Service in McCreary County as they would not have the funding to continue.

According to the 2017-18 budget for the Extension Service only $144,788 in expected operating costs are anticipated for the year, an increase of about $90,000 from the previous budget cycle.

The two significant increases fall in the field of travel, training and professional development and rent, utilities, equipment and supplies.

The previous Extension budget held $7,146 for travel and professional improvement, whereas the current budget increases that expenditure to $36,000.

Just over $70,000 was allocated to rent and equipment, and increase of more than $62,000 from the previous year.

Allocations for contributions for salary and Base Program costs remained relatively consistent.

Phillips stated he hoped to begin the process of abolishing the Extension Board at next month’s Fiscal Court meeting.

In other actions Monday the Fiscal Court approved several staffing and salary adjustments at the McCreary County Ambulance Service and 911 in the wake of the departure of Assistant Director Willie Duncan.

Director Jimmy Barnett stated, rather than hire a new assistant, he intended to divide the duties among existing staff members, while giving them a slight increase in pay.

The Court approved all changes.

After the meeting Barnett stated the moves will save the department and County about $14,000 in salary costs.
As it was a special called meeting, the Fiscal Court could not discuss items that were not included on the agenda, but all members remained behind after the session to hear comments from citizens in attendance.

A question on cleaning up illegal dump sites was asked, prompting Judge Stephens to state there is funding available to clean up those areas, and the upcoming change in garbage service should free up time for personnel in solid waste to do the clean up. He encouraged anyone who finds a dump site to inform his office of the location.

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