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County considering property tax increase to aid ‘struggling’ funds

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By Taylor Riley

A proposed 4 percent increase in property taxes, among other cost savings, might help a flagging Henry County economy, according to county officials.

In a 2019-20 budget proposal, the fiscal court proposes a 4 percent increase in property taxes to generate an estimated $33,000 to a budget that Judge-Executive John Logan Brent says is “struggling.” For property owners, this would mean going from the current 11.7 cents per $100 to 12.16 cents per $100.

Also under discussion next year is the county employee’s current insurance plan and raises. In the proposed budget, the fiscal court could potentially find cost savings after bidding out its current insurance plan. A 40-cent an hour raise is discussed for all full-time employees and a 25 cents raise for part-time employees.

Raises for elected officials will be based on the state cost of living allowance, which is set in January 2020, according to the proposal. A $1 an hour training incentive adjustment increase and a $1.50 an hour equipment operators incentive adjustment for full-time employees who complete their training classes and mastered all equipment in the road department would be discussed.

Raises, though, will not be given final authorization until December 2019.

A one-time salary adjustment of $1.25 per hour for the Parks Director Travis Buchanan and 75 cents an hour for his assistant would be based upon the added responsibilities of the splash pad, which is run by the county. A one-time salary adjustment of $1.25 per hour is also proposed for Road Supervisor Kenny Tindle.

These raises, of course, are needed for competitive salaries within the area, but the county is “hurting” based on these fiscal needs and more, said Judge Brent.

Other funds needed for 2019-20 would be road projects including:

-A special road and bridge replacement project on Joe’s Branch Road

-Union Church Road: 0.7 miles, estimated cost $50,000

-Sewell Road: 1 mile, estimated cost $64,500

-Powell Lane: 1.3 miles, estimated cost $40,000

Also described in the document, districts 2, 3 and 4 will receive additional road funding to use at their discretion:

-District 2: $25,000

-District 3: $35,000

-District 4: $15,000

Brent said in the past nine years, the county’s property tax revenue has been flat. Henry County is one of two counties in the region that is providing services with only the resources it has from property taxes, meaning it doesn’t have an occupational or insurance premium tax.

“We want to provide the best services we can with the resources we have … resources are shrinking,” Brent said.

Emergency Management Services, for example, has expanded coverage areas but has limited funding. After state reimbursements, EMS is the largest service funded by the county’s carry-over fund for the last several years, Brent said. While Henry County EMS was getting $900,000 a year in reimbursement four years ago, it’s only $700,000 in 2018.

“We’ve been pretty close to breaking even in the last five years, but the insurance reimbursement has really changed,” Brent said in 2018.

The federal government has been cutting Medicare and Medicaid payments to ambulance services since 1996, according to the Associated Press.

All of Kentucky’s 257 licensed ambulance services deal with inadequate reimbursement of costs not just from private insurance companies but also from Medicaid and Medicare, said Charles O’Neal, deputy executive director of the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services to the AP.

Judge-Executive Brent said when those who don’t have insurance call on an overdose or other emergency, the expense goes to EMS.

“It’s not an option to drop EMS,” Brent said, noting that it takes $300,000 to $350,000 to make ends meet.

Other factors leading to deficits is the doubling of employee insurance and services like Animal Control, which costs $100,000 a year to maintain, is mandated by the state, so the county can’t cut costs there either.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Department was also in the red last year $18,000 due to payroll that the county had to “eat,” according to Brent, otherwise former interim Sheriff Deeanne West would have had to pay out of her own pocket, due to Kentucky law. The department is currently only behind one payroll, equalling $16,000.

Other Kentucky counties have been struggling, too, due to budget shortfall. McCracken County is considering putting CASA and other nonprofit groups that receive local government grants “on notice,” because the county is expected to have a $890,000 deficit this year, according to the Associated Press.

The county, Brent said, is in deficit of $300,000 to $350,000 and doing what it can to cut costs, like selling the Park Cell Tower, which is anticipated to generate $255,000 in one-time revenue, but options like raising property taxes have to be explored.

“We can’t make it another year without (changing),” Brent said. “We’re all hurting, we’re all struggling.”

The county held a second reading of the budget with road fund amendments at Tuesday night's fiscal court meeting. Public comment and approval for the property tax change will be in the fall.