By Greg Bird
Concerned citizens packed the McCreary County Fiscal Court Thursday night to let their elected officials know their thoughts on the proposed dissolution of the McCreary County Extension Board.
More than three-dozen individuals spoke out that evening, presenting compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. The majority of the speakers were pro-extension, but there were more than a fair share of supporters of the Fiscal Court’s plan to dissolve the Board who felt the tax was unjust and a burden on taxpayers. (See accompanying article for individual comments.)
Complicating matters for the plans to dissolve the board comes from statements from Magistrate Jason Mann. Previously the Magistrate for District three had stated he would base his decision on turnout at the public hearing. On Thursday night he reiterated the statement, further clarifying his vote would correspond with the number of citizens from his district who voiced their opinion based on a sign-in sheet provided.
He also added if more people were in support of the Extension he would not vote to eliminate the board, however he intended to negotiate a lower tax rate as a compromise for keeping it intact.
According to the sign-in sheets, 38 citizens from District 3 put their names on the paper, with 27 supporting the Extension Board and 11 opposed to the tax.
If Magistrate Mann follows through with his commitment, it would effectively block any further maneuvers to dissolve the board, as four fifths of the Fiscal Court would need to vote to approve the motion.
With Judge Executive Doug Stephens consistently voting against the majority of the Fiscal Court on the issue, Mann’s change leaves the Fiscal Court with only three members in favor of dissolvement.
No actual actions were taken at the more than two-hour meeting, as it was simply a public forum – part of the requirements needed as part of the dissolution process. Any further actions will likely be taken at a future Fiscal Court meeting.
Magistrates were also provided with a letter from the University of Kentucky Associate Dean for Extension stating the proposed budget for the extension service from the Fiscal Court would barely cover salary and rent, and would not support current operations and programming.
Dr. Palmer says operating on that budget could lead to decreases in employees, programming, office hours and could force the office to close. Doing so, Palmer said would leave McCreary County as the only county in the state without an extension office.
He also noted 115 of the 120 extension offices receive funding through local taxes, and McCreary has the lowest operating budget out of all the offices.
To complete the dissolution, the Fiscal Court will need to pass a second reading of an ordinance establishing the Fiscal Court’s plan to oversee the Extension Service using funding from the County’s budget, as opposed to allowing the Board and tax to remain intact.
Following that a third ordinance would have to be presented and pass two readings. That ordinance would be the actual dissolvement of the Board and elimination of the tax that was imposed by the Board last fall.
Not wanting to wait for the next Fiscal Court meeting, the attorney for the embattled Extension Board has filed a motion in Circuit Court asking for a Judge to put a halt on the Fiscal Court’s plans to abolish the board until the body follows proper procedures to comply with the law in doing so.
Attorney Robert Waters filed a motion for preliminary injunction last week asking the Court to stop the Fiscal Court from taking any further actions to dissolve the Board until it is assured they are following the correct procedures to do so.
The request for the injunction follows a previous legal filing by Waters, which states the Fiscal Court’s plan for dissolvement is inadequate and incomplete, and thus is illegal under Kentucky statutes. The case asks the Court to review the statutes, and at the very least, require the Fiscal Court to present a more detailed plan of what services they intend to provide if the Board is shut down and the tax nullified.
A hearing date for the injunction has been scheduled for Monday, June 11, just three days before the next scheduled meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court, where it is expected a second reading of the ordinance establishing the plan to operate the Extension Service under the County’s budget is expected to be held.