By Greg Bird
The second phase of
dissolving the McCreary County Extension Board may have begun after the Fiscal Court voted to approve the first reading of a notice of dissolution of the entity
during last week’s meeting.
Presented by Magistrate Roger Phillips during the “other business” portion of the agenda, the Fiscal Court voted 4-1 in favor of approving the notice, which could kick off the second of three phases involved in dissolving the Extension Board and removing the tax levied by that Board.
The document, titled “Notice of dissolution of McCreary County Extension Board,” reads, in part, as follows:
“McCreary extension board began as a special district on or about June 26, 2015. On February 6, 2018 McCreary Fiscal Court passed an ordinance approving the commencement of dissolution of the McCreary Extension Board with a 4-1 vote. The McCreary Fiscal Court wishes to restore all extension Services. We will accomplish these goals by funding these services at previous budget levels from the general fund of McCreary County Fiscal Court.”
The notice further states all assets held by the Extension Board will be transferred to the Fiscal Court upon passage and the remaining funds will be used to finance the Extension Service.
Phillips noted that anyone opposed to the dissolution has the right to protest the move by submitting a written objection to the Judge Executive’s Office within 30 days of the first passing of the notice. All written objections can be submitted to the McCreary County Judge Executive, PO Box 579, Whitley City Kentucky, 42653.
If any objections are received within the 30-day window, a public hearing will have to be scheduled and held prior to any final action taken on the notice of dissolution.
There remain questions if the Fiscal Court’s actions Thursday constitute passing an actual ordinance; or is simply a declaration from the Court. Typically ordinances are clearly defined as such in the document and contain an ordinance identification number in the bill to be entered in to the County’s law book.
The measure passed Thursday did not have such a number, and nowhere in the document is it actually defined as a county ordinance.
Judge Executive Doug Stephens said Monday he intended to speak with Magistrate Phillips to discern his intention with the notice, as well as the Department of Local Government as to what steps still need to be taken to move the issue forward.
If the notice is able to stand as an ordinance, a second reading must be held to officially enact it in to law. Following that a third ordinance must be read and passed to complete the process and dissolve the board.
Magistrate Phillips, who has been critical of the Extension Board and their passage of a 3.95-cent tax, has maintained that the Fiscal Court has no intention of closing the McCreary County Extension Service. Dissolving the Board, he has stated, is simply a means to remove the tax, and would put the onus of funding the service back in to the General Fund budget. Prior to last year the Fiscal Court appropriated as much as $48,000 a year to support the service.
With that funding not included in the budget this year, the Extension Board opted to initiate a tax to maintain and improve the services offered through the extension program. That tax nearly quadrupled the Extension Service’s budget by generating an estimated $190,000 a year.
Opponent of the move, particularly members of the Extension Board themselves, maintain the tax as necessary to not only continue operations, but to make much-needed improvements. Pam Gibson, former Chair of the Board (her term expired in January), has stated the service could barely survive on the allowance from the Fiscal Court before and need additional revenue to continue to operate.
Additionally, Extension Service Agent Greg Whitis has presented a letter from the University of Kentucky Extension Service that implies that any move to restore the funding to 2016 level could prompt the University to close the service locally.
The idea of a compromise, lowering the Extension Board’s tax rate to 2.5-cents, was introduced at a previous Fiscal Court meeting, but the proposal did not gain any favor with the magistrates. Judge Executive Doug Stephens has advocated for keeping the Board intact and has been the only dissenting vote on any of the measures to disband the group.