By Greg Bird
By a 4-1 vote Thursday night the McCreary County Fiscal Court began plans to abolish the McCreary County Extension Board, eliminating the possibility of any future taxes, and returning the funding responsibility of the Extension Service to the General Fund.
But, even as the procedure to eliminate the Special Purpose Government Entity has begun, efforts are underway to possibly reach a compromise that could preserve the Board and their taxing authority.
Monday Judge Executive Stephens confirmed that he has began engaging in discussions with the Extension Board and the University of Kentucky to possibly develop a compromise plan, which could possibly prevent the need to dissolve the Board.
Judge Stephens said discussions center on introducing a reduced tax rate for next year that would drastically lower the burden on taxpayers, but still allow the Extension Service to adequately fund their programs and maintain operations.
The issue has been a source of contention for several months after it was revealed that the Extension Board opted to levy a 3.95 cent per $100 of property and vehicle value in February. Over the past two months dissent has grown over the amount of revenue generated through the levy and came to a head last month after Magistrates claimed they were “blindsided” by the amount of the tax and vowed to take steps to prevent it from being added to the tax bills next year.
During the citizen participation portion of the meeting Extension Board Chair Pam Gibson addressed the Court, asking them to reconsider stated plans of dissolving the Board. Gibson stated she felt the move threatened the continued existence of the Extension Service, as the lack of funding could prompt the University of Kentucky to close the local office.
“It has been told that our Magistrates are against the Extension Board and are likely to abolish it,” Gibson said. “I ask the Magistrates to reconsider.”
Magistrate Roger Phillips, who spoke out against the tax last month, stated he believed the Extension Service could continue to operate on the funding provided by the Fiscal Court without the need for a tax.
Phillips said the Fiscal Court was not shutting down the service itself, merely removing the board and placing the responsibility for funding back under the Court’s control. He expressed his belief that the Extension Service had operated for years with the funding granted to them by the Fiscal Court, and could continue to do so in the future.
Phillips produced a document detailing the funding for the service for the past 13 years, showing it had risen from just over $22,000 in 2003 to $48,000 in 2016 – before it was eliminated in this year’s budget.
“Funding has went up every year,” he said. “How did you provide services with that amount and can’t now?”
Gibson stated the new tax revenue would allow the local office to expand the services offered to citizens, and also compensate for a loss of funding at the state and federal levels.
“We have more students who participate in what we are offering,” she said. Gibson added that the service is funded through the University of Kentucky based on student enrollment, which is decreasing. “We want to improve,” she added. “The office cannot be run on that small amount of money anymore.”
Phillips maintained the plan was not to close the local office, but return it to a funding level that was affordable for citizens.
“It’s going to cost $200,000 to run the same services you had in the past, it doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
“We are not cutting the service, we are putting it back in the budget.” Phillips continued. “What I’m hearing from my people is they don’t use the service, so why should they pay the near four percent?”
Dr. Peg Taylor, one of the driving forces behind getting the KCCTS campus to McCreary County made an impassioned plea on behalf of the service.
“When we started the college our intention was to have the widest possible community base,” she said. “Part of our effort was to bring the Extension Service in with us.”
Dr. Taylor noted the work the service performs with local students, gardeners and obtaining grants proved to be a benefit for the community.
“The Extension Service has been behind a lot of our economic development,” she said. “We’ve received a lot from the Extension Service; they do a lot that you take for granted. I think this community can give back.”
Later in the meeting Magistrate Phillips motioned for the Fiscal Court to begin procedures to abolish the Extension Board over the next few months and return funding for the Extension Service to the General Fund with the next budget cycle.
A new ordinance would have to be established and pass two readings and a public hearing would have to be held in order to finalize the dissolvement.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens was the only dissenting vote on the motion, noting he believed in the value of the Extension Service and did not agree with the motion to abolish the Board.
The Extension Service has also announced plans to hire an intern for a 12-week term over the summer of 2018. The intern must be from McCreary County and must be enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program at an accredited institution and have completed at least 36 academic credit hours. The intern will be supervised by the McCreary County Extension Agents and will work in all programming areas. The pay will be $1,900 per month.
Interested applicants must apply online t https://ukjobs.uky.edu/postings/162562.