WHITLEY CITY —
Considering the amount of government-controlled land here, how do you feel about land use planning (zoning)? Are there other ordinances you feel the county should consider or existing ones you’d like to revisit?
WATERS: I feel zoning is a must. We must get a handle on this trash, on the road ways, by staying in unity toward the same goals we will be victorious. Get on board McCreary County, together we can do it!
BURDINE: I have mixed feelings on the planning and zoning of our community. On one hand I can see the significance that planning could have and it could greatly benefit the county economically. On the other, it’s somewhat difficult to push that agenda onto a people that do not see the benefit. I would like to explore the issue more and become more educated and knowledgeable about it before making a commitment on it.
In so far as other ordinances, I’m a firm believer in a business license. There has been some recent discussion of this in local organizations and I’ve even had one individual tell me there has been a business license require-ment on the books for years. I know the chamber of commerce is looking into this to be sure of it. A business license creates a level playing field for all business. The fiscal court should create a business environment that is fair to all businesses that currently exist here and those that want to settle here. I would hope that the court would take a serious look at the business license and create or amend that ordinance to the point of fairness for everyone.
HILL: Zoning is typically something used in incorporated areas. Being that McCreary County has no incorporated cities, and is the only county in KY without at least one, I don't see this happening. While there are people all for it, there are also many more against it. I have also heard talk of a "nuisance" ordinance, which also falls into this category. I cannot see putting restrictions on someone's property, after they have worked and paid for it with no restrictions. I feel these are issues to be dealt with by the citizens of a city, should they wish to incorporate, and not by the county government.
STEPHENS: As I have stated in the past, I have mixed feeling about this topic. I am generally an advocate for less government control, especially when dealing with private-owned land. I do, however, understand that the non-regulation of some things affects our county as a whole. Improper disposal of garbage, littering the roadsides and creating open dumps diminishes our quality of life, as well as discourages outside folks from investing in our community. Burned out buildings are not only scars on our landscape but may also be health hazards. I am convinced that we need to enforce those laws that are currently on the books and that by doing so will eliminate a large percentage of our problems. Many issues, such as cell phone towers, roadside sales, and traveling businesses need to be better regulated in order to protect local property owners and local businesses.
I am in favor of land-use planning to ensure that we identify those properties best suitable for business develop-ment to better ensure we have the resources needed when opportunities present themselves. This is especially critical since nearly 70 percent of our land is federally-owned. I am in favor of a low-cost business licenses to legitimize and protect local businesses already established and protect the investment of other businesses that will be developed.
GREENE: Everyone knows our limitations due to the fact of 70% of our county's land is federally owned. This not only limits our tax base but limits expansion on future business and housing. I am definitely a proponent of more control being given back to the states, but that is another matter and is out of our control. It seems as if limitations are constantly being put upon the citizens for use of this federal land.
We need to strive to get more access (ATVs, Horse-back trails, etc.). We could continue to educate the pub-lic on care and conservation of these roads and trails and hopefully get more access back. I really don't foresee the Federal Government giving or leasing any of this land to the County unless influential state and national leaders are willing to plead on our behalf.
We must also revisit the mandatory garbage ordin-ance. It puzzles me why we wouldn't want to dispose of our garbage in a safe and proper way. Those caught "illegally dumping" their trash should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Vigorously seek grants to take our Recycling program to the next level. I would like to see our citizens provided with trash containers so they could put their recyclables (bottles, paper, cans) in them for pickup. Have more free bulk pickup days.
Control of planning zoning/noise ordinances, subdivisions, demolition of structures that present a hazard to public health/safety have the potential to help the development and growth of our county. However, many citi-zens may feel that this is a further example of the government intruding on their rights. We must decide what our priorities are.
MORROW: Zoning has been an issue for years in the county election and I agree that zoning does increase property value. Having said that, we know that Fiscal Court members have passed many ordinances that are not worth the paper that it is written on. Zoning and county ordinances that change or alter the right of its citizens should be discusses and reviewed on a regular basis. Zoning and ordinances mean citizens have to abide by the new law. Zoning or ordinances should not be taken lightly by our citizens or the Fiscal Court members.
We still have several existing ordinances that are not fully functional or properly regulated. One example is McCreary County Ordinance 830.3, also known as the county garbage collection ordinance.
Discuss your views on the occupational tax and how its revenues are used. What other ways to gen-erate revenue could you support, either in place of or in addition to the occupational tax? How should such revenues be directed (improving existing services, implementing new services, debt service, etc.)?
WATERS: Occupational tax should not be put in the general fund, put the tax funds back in law enforcement, ambulance, etc. After elected we can move the county forward.
BURDINE: I was a member of the Leadership McCreary class that came out in support of the occupational tax under the Blaine Phillips Administration. Somewhat like our situation today, we had to look at ways to create new revenue in order to operate the county business, to be sure we could continue services such as ambulance and other departments. It was a bold move by the court to initiate such an action with a strong opposition. At that time the court knew that something had to change in order to continue to operate and keep essential services. Those of us that work and pay the tax are to the point to where we hardly miss it and I believe the tax is divided up in fair percentages to the various departments. I am however a bit concerned that all those moneys are being put into the general fund and the bills from those departments are being paid from the general fund. Personally I’m not comfort-able with that. However the current administration says the Department of Local Government says this is the way it should be done.
Personally I don’t like it. In so far as other taxes, I believe the occupational tax is here to stay. Our county at this point could not survive without it. This tax typically will put between $850,000 to $1 million into the county each year. I don’t see this tax going anywhere. The next part of this is in a question, do we need more revenue and the answer to this is simply yes. Currently there is some discussion about a restaurant tax and I am not opposed. This tax is something that not only we as citizens of the county would pay, but it also would be paid by others that visit here. The restaurant tax has the potential to create a decent volume of tax revenue without being detrimental to our local citizens. I would hope that the court would create an ordinance that would be quite basic and meet the need of additional revenue to be placed into the county budget, thus relieving some of the frustration we are now seeing.
Initially speaking, any new revenue put into play should be used to stabilize the financial security of the county. If an ambulance were to “blow up” today, there are no funds available to replace it or even repair it. We are simply not on stable ground financially speaking. We must get to the point of being stable before we can push any new ideas or agendas that are going to require revenue that we simply do not have. It would seem as if we were robbing Peter to pay Paul. Well, not Peter is broke. Depending on a couple of upcoming situations that could be devastating, for example the deletion of PILT funds, will determine what we are going to need in order to create stability. If we lose PILT funds, we’re in deep. Way deep. If I read correctly, PILT funds bring about $350,000 in revenue to the county. We simply cannot afford to lose that. If it happens, the court will have to act quickly and diligently with some type of taxation revenue increase to at the very least equal the amount of money we receive from the Federal Government.
HILL: Originally, the Occupational Tax was structured with a certain percentage going to different parts of county government. Early last year, fiscal court voted to put ALL the OT funds into the General Fund, and disperse them to each department from there. The OT funds need to be returned to the original structure, the structure people were told would be in place when this tax was passed.
Although the alcohol meas-ure failed in 2012, I'm sure it will once again be on the ballot in 2015. If it passes, this will bring significant bonuses to our economy. Wet counties automatically qualify for more law enforcement funds from the state, and this means more deputies. We are already having to do DUI patrols on three sides of McCreary that border wet counties, while the wet counties receive the tax revenues. If we wish to build a true tourism economy, a KY Chamber of Commerce study says alcohol sales are a must. Tax funds generated by alcohol sales should be applied to law enforcement and alcohol/drug abuse programs first.
Another idea I hear around McCreary County is a 3% Restaurant Tax. The funds generated by this tax would have to go directly to tourism and economic development. I think officials should meet with local restaurant and deli owners, and get their opinions on how this might affect their businesses before considering implementing it.
There are several other options for McCreary County. We don't collect a hotel/motel tax, for example. The Chamber of Commerce has discussed business licenses. I don't feel the judge and court should implement ANY of these means of generating revenue without first getting the opinions of local business leaders and consumers. They know their business better than anyone, and know what effects these things will have on them, as well as our local economy.
STEPHENS: During my administration, we amended the occupational tax ordinance to place all the money into the general fund. This was a necessary move, recommend-ed by the Department for Local Government in Frank-fort, to be better able to spend the money where needed when it was needed. Prior to that amendment, it was divided up into the different funds where it sat until needed by that particular fund. This amend-ment was simply an accounting move to be able to pay the bills that were due in all these funds. Funds expected are still budgeted into the county budget and funded as they were prior to the change.
Since I have been in office, I have worked with our federal leaders on ways to pay more for the PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) on federally-owned lands and to continue with the program that does provide monies for our roads and schools. While costs for county government to operate contin-ue to increase over time, rev-enues from programs like this tend to shrink. We are looking at options for more equitable ways to pay for our local government services.
Occupational taxes are generally paid only by a segment of our population so other ways to spread out the tax burden would be favored. Items that may provide more equitable revenue would be a restaurant tax (which could be used for economic develop-ment and tourism-related activities), business license (to identify legitimate businesses and protect them from improperly-operating businesses). I support the Local Options Sales Tax initiate at the state level which would allow the citizens of the county to vote for a special tax for a specific project for a specified amount of time. This would be an avenue to fund a specific project that our citizens consider important to them (by their vote). It would be my hope that alternate revenue sources such as these would greatly reduce our budgetary dependency on the occupation-al tax.
GREENE: Now that we have the occupational tax, we are dependent on it. However, I feel it needs to return to its original structure where the monies are allocated to the different entities (Ambulance service, Park, 911, etc.), rather than being lumped into the General Fund. This is a sure recipe to lose accountability and transparency and insti-tute possible misuse of funds.
I am against any new taxes whether they be local sales option tax, restaurant tax, debt service tax or any others UNLESS the citizens decide this is the direction they want to go. I feel those that are paying the lion's share of the taxes are taxed to death! I do not think we can tax ourselves to prosperity. If any new sources of income or access to new monies is received I think we should provide first for our most necessary services, Ambulance and Law enforcement. I would love to see our men and women who risk and protect lives be paid accordingly. Since we haven't been paying them accordingly, we train them and they seek work elsewhere for more pay. I also have been working with some individuals on ways to raise money to take a load off the taxpayers on the Ten Commandments loan.
MORROW: I personally do not like the occupational tax, it penalized our citizens for working. The occupational tax was brought about to help improve county services, now it is used to pay county bills.
No county judge will be able to get rid of the occupational tax until we have a different tax base. Almost two years ago, I introduced a vote to the Citizens of McCreary County for the sale of alcohol bev-erages, not because I want to promote alcohol, but because alcohol generates high levels of revenue. In the local area, we can look at Somerset, Corbin, Williamsburg, and Scott County TN and see the revenue it has generated. The revenue in these areas over the passed year has improved all their services and they have been able to hire more police officers, EMS personnel, and bought new police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and road department vehicles and list goes on and on. All of this, without increasing anyone's property taxes. We have to improve our infrastructure and county services to bring businesses into our county. As Judge I will work to find alternatives to the occupation-al tax that will benefit our county.
Discuss your views on the jail situation. Can it be re-opened/rebuilt? How else can the building be used? How would you balance inmate-related responsibilities between your office and that of the Jailer/Chief Transport Officer?
WATERS: In my point of view the jail must be reopened. This is a must. We can also use the inmates to do the clean up.
BURDINE: We have been dealing with this jail issue for what seems like an eternity.
Until the Department of Corrections is willing to nego-tiate or compromise, I honest-ly don’t see us having a jail here in the county. Please understand that I only have what I read or am told to relay my opinion. I’m sure the current court and judge executive as well as the current jailer/transport officer have more information that I or most of us do, and therefore can make a more informed opinion. Personally I wish this situation had never gotten to where it has. 16 or 17 people lost good paying jobs because of an inability for mature adults to work out a compro-mise to the situation. But what is done is done and now we simply deal with it as best we can. Our prisoners are being transported to various other detention facilities around our area and this seems to be working out okay.
According to the current court, the county has saved nearly $40,000. That’s a good thing. It would cost an estimated $5 million to build a new jail. The current building apparently is not suitable to house inmates. As I understand there is still some debt against that building and that debt needs to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Other uses fro the jail are the creation of an USDA approved kitchen. I understand there are plans underway to make that happen. Inmate-related re-sponsibilities: I guess the question here is who is in charge? There are several men and women vying for the position of jailer/transport officer. One of those individu-als is going to become elected to that position. In my opin-ion, he or she should be responsible to report to the judge executive regularly and the judge executive report to the fiscal court. The judge executive and/or deputy have way too many important things to do aside from micro managing a jail or any other department. But they should keep constant and consistent knowledge of all happenings in all departments.
HILL: I'm very familiar with the jail situation, having been involved since well before it's closure. I hold both the jailer and our current judge/ executive responsible for losing our jail. Each time a notice to repair the jail was sent to the jailer from the Dept. of Corrections (DOC), one was also sent to our judge. If the jailer was not perform-ing his duties, the judge/ executive should have taken action.
I bring this up because it would have been much easier to keep our jail open than try to re-open it. According Mike Coomer of the DOC, now that our jail has been closed, it will have to meet current code to be re-opened. This would require a complete remodel of the top floor, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and after completion, we still couldn't qualify to hold state prisoners. State prison-ers brought in over $200,000 a year, and paid the salary of the jail employees.
With this in mind, no judge/executive would agree to re-open the jail without state prisoners. It would be fiscally irresponsible. Yes, it would be possible for a new jailer to convince DOC to change their mind, but highly unlikely. Opening up without meeting code could make them liable for anything bad that hap-pened. I think our best option is to continue transporting, and try to cut the costs as much as possible.
There could be many possi-bilities for the jail building. Substance abuse center, domestic violence shelter, emer-gency shelter have all been mentioned. Any one of these would be a great idea.
All inmate transport duties should be the responsibility of the elected jailer/transport officer. He or she is elected by the people to perform a job, and should be held accountable for that position's duties.
STEPHENS: The Fiscal Court was handed a very tough situation by The Kentucky Department of Corrections, with the closing of the jail. We have worked diligently to manage the situation best for the people of the county while effectively using the available financial re-sources. We have worked with adjacent counties to house our inmates; we have changed direction in the way we have handled transports to be more effective. Our hope is that in the future, management of the situation will become easier if people elected can work with us to manage the transports and work with the court system to get defendants released on bond or placed on ankle bracelets when the penalty allows it, thus reducing cost to the county for housing these inmates. We will work with whomever to find an alternative to getting a facility operable in our county or better manageable in a regional setting (if that is what the Department of Correction requires).
GREENE: Well the jail situation has been the hot button topic of the last year and a half and was a black eye for the county. There is no need for me to rehash the situation. The incoming Fiscal Court must now focus on solutions. The Judge Execu-tive, Magistrates and the Department of Corrections would need to meet and see what our realistic options are for reopening/rebuilding the jail. If it's not reasonable to reopen the jail or build a new jail, THEN we can look at alternative uses for the building. The Fiscal Court is responsible for maintaining a jail or contract with another county for the incarceration and care of its prisoners (KRS 441.025). I would expect the Jailer/Chief Transport Officer to be qualified to run the day to day operations but the Fiscal Court would assist in any way possible. It appears we are spending way more on transporting prisoners than we were when we housed them in our jail. If we continue to transport prisoners we must cut costs and maintain trained transport officers in order to stay in budget and prevent liability to the county.
MORROW: The county jail situation is a result of lack of money and County officials not working together to solve problems. We need our jail! Now the Fiscal Court mem-bers must decide if the cost of renovation to the old jail will meet DOC standards or just be a waste of money. The jail was built in the 1970's and it may be more cost effective to build a new one. As far as the building being used for other purposes will depend upon the financial cost of renovations or upgrades needed to bring it to code standards required by state laws other than DOC.
The inmate-related respon-sibilities are that of the Jailer, that is why we elect them. As Judge I will work with Jailer and the DOC to ensure the Jailer has the resources needed to fulfill his duties to the county and state.