Whitis stood up, exclaiming: “I’ve been quiet long enough on this subject.”
By Greg Bird
The process to dissolve the McCreary County Extension District Board has officially begun, but it may take a few months to complete.
Discussion on the embattled special taxing district, which imposed a 3.95 cent per $100 tax on property and vehicles in February continued Thursday night during the regular session of the McCreary County Fiscal Court. Acting on a pledge to dissolve the Board, and thus removing the possibility of any future tax, the Magistrates took the first step in abolishing the Board, but it may be several months before it is official, and many questions still need to be answered.
According to Judge Executive Doug Stephens the process is likely to take some time as the Fiscal Court has to enact and pass three separate ordinances, with each requiring two readings to take effect, as well as hold a public hearing and develop a plan on how to provide the services before the Board would be officially disbanded and any future tax for the District stopped.
“It’s a long, complicated process,” Stephens said.
Prior to asking for a motion to approve the first reading of an ordinance stating the dissolution process Judge Stephens presented a possible compromise option to the Fiscal Court.
Extension Service Agent Greg Whitis had drafted a proposed budget for the coming year where the District could operate on a lower budget, which would entail a 2.5 cent per $100 of assessed value, as opposed to the 3.95 cent tax in place now.
None of the four Magistrates offered a comment on the proposal, and Magistrate Roger Phillips made a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance. The motion was seconded by Magistrate Leroy “O.L.” Perry, and the measure passed with a 4-1 vote with no discussion. Judge Stephens was the only dissenting vote on the bill.
The ordinance presented Thursday night simply officially begins the process of abolishing the Board. Ordinance 150.6 states “this ordinance shall begin the process of ‘non-specific dissolution’ of both the McCreary County Extension District and the McCreary County Extension District Board immediately upon its adoption and publication by law by KRS 65A.050.”
That ordinance will require a second reading before it becomes official. The second reading is expected to be presented next month, with the possibility of a first reading of a second ordinance at the same time.
The second ordinance could prove to be a stumbling block as it is to contain a plan on how the County expects to provide the services performed by the Extension Board. That plan must meet approval from the Department of Local Government, and possibly the University of Kentucky Extension Service, as well as be offered for public comment at a hearing.
Judge Stephens recommended one or two magistrates form a committee and meet with the Extension Board to develop a plan, but during Thursday’s meeting none indicated they would do so.
Only after the first and second ordinances are official, a third ordinance would need to be passed that would formally dissolve the Board.
Magistrates Roger Phillips and Jason Mann both stated in the meeting that the intent was not to close the Extension Service, but merely dissolve the governing board and return funding obligations to the Fiscal Court.
They contend the service had operated in the past with about $48,000, and felt the service could continue to perform their normal functions at that level of funding.
Following the vote on the first reading of the ordinance, Agent Greg Whitis spoke up, claiming the Extension Service could not possibly operate on the same budget they had in previous years, noting that expenses had continued to rise and the District was forced to pay more in personnel costs than ever before.
He also stated the University of Kentucky was expected to pass down an assessment to extension districts across the state due to federal and state budget cuts. That assessment could cost the local district around $50,000 over the next two years alone.
“$48,000 is not even going to cover a year ago’s budget,” he stated.
Magistrate Phillips said he felt it was unfair for the university to pass costs on to the extension districts, and ultimately the taxpayers.
“If we keep letting U.K. pass this down, where is the stopping line?” he asked. “We (the Fiscal Court) have to take care of the people out here. We have to decide what we can afford and what we can’t.”
Whitis stated if the Fiscal Court intended to revert funding levels back to where they had been, the threat of U.K. closing the service was a real possibility.
“If you can’t afford the extension, let U.K. know that and they will start the process to close the doors,” he said.
Phillips countered that it wasn’t a Fiscal Court decision to close the service, they only intend to revert funding back to the previous level and any decision to shut the doors falls to the university and the local office.
“When we pass the budget, (giving the Extension District) $48,000 again, and you decide you don’t want to provide the service, then you’ll let the people know,” he said. “It’s you, not us. We are going to put it back to what it was”
With that Whitis stood up, exclaiming: “I’ve been quiet long enough on this subject.”
Whitis went on to say he had spoken to Magistrates Phillips and Baird prior to the Extension Board voting to adopt a tax and told them that a tax of 2 to 2.5 cents could be expected.
“Two magistrates knew this tax was going to happen, the County Judge knew this was going to happen,” he said.
Magistrate Phillips interrupted; disputing the claim, stating no numbers had been discussed at the time.
“Two magistrates knew you were going to pass a 3.95 cent tax? No way,” Phillips exclaimed. “No one up here knew a 3.95 cent tax was going to pass until a month before it happened.”
Whitis reiterated his claim, stating he had told the Extension Board that both Judge Stephens and Magistrates Phillips and Baird were “comfortable” with a tax rate of 2 to 2.5 cents, but the Board opted to go with the higher rate.
Phillips countered that no numbers about a possible rate were discussed when they had spoken, and he wouldn’t have been willing to approve a rate that more than doubled the District’s budget.
Phillips also noted that any discussion of removing the funding from the Extension District and the need for a tax occurred before the Fiscal Court voted to approve a half-cent increase for the Occupational Tax, suggesting that funding could have been put back in the budget with the extra revenue generated.
Magistrate Jason Mann asked why Whitis hadn’t been before the Fiscal Court (over his past two terms) to ask for assistance with his budget.
“If you were in dire straits, I don’t recall you coming up here (before the Fiscal Court) to ask for money?” Magistrate Jason Mann asked Whitis.
Whitis said he had appeared several times in the past to ask, but was turned down each time.
“How many times do you get told no before you quit coming?” he stated.
Barring any special called meetings in the near future, it appears the process to dissolve the Board will take at least three months to run its course, and could extend until the end of the fiscal year.
The Fiscal Court hopes to wrap up the process prior to approving the budget for the next fiscal year this coming June.
In other actions Thursday night the Fiscal Court opened and approved bids for the purchase of heart monitors and to remount an ambulance for the McCreary County Ambulance Service. The monitors will be paid through a Homeland Security Grant, while the remount will be paid for through the special fund established for that specific purpose.
Judge Stephens noted there had been six applicants for the vacant Tourism Administrative Assistant position, but he had been unable to forward those to the members of the Tourism Board for review. He asked to table the discussion until the next meeting to get the Board’s recommendation.
Similarly, four loan applications for the County’s Revolving Loan Program were on the agenda. All four loans had been reviewed by the Economic Development Board, but all were lacking certain information, and the Board had requested the applicants to submit additional details last month.
Stephens stated two of the loan applicants had since provided the requested information, while the remaining two were still pending.
The Fiscal Court approved the awarding of loans to the two applicants – pending final approval from the Economic Development Board, and tabled any action on the remaining two, pending the receipt of the additional information.
Citizen Bill Shook stated he took offense to a recent letter from County Attorney Conley Chaney included in a mailing from Poff Carting, the new garbage service provider. The letter, which Chaney sent to Judge Executive Doug Stephens, provided an opinion of what possible actions could be taken against individuals who do not participate in garbage service – including fines up to $500.
Shook said his wife took the letter as a threat, and he didn’t take kindly to the thought the County was trying to force him to participate in a service he didn’t want or need.
Chaney admitted to submitting the opinion to Judge Stephens, but denied it was meant to be a threat and was unaware at the time that Poff Carting intended to include the letter in their informational mailing.
Shook demanded a written apology from both County officials for his wife. Chaney apologized and Judge Stephens said he would write a letter.
On a garbage-related issue it was noted that citizens over the age of 62 qualify for the senior citizen discount for garbage service, as well as those qualifying for a Homestead Exemption.
The next meeting of the Fiscal Court will be on Tuesday, February 6 at 5:00 p.m. The meeting date and time has been changed due to a conference attended by magistrates on the date of the normal meeting.