Judge-Executive, magistrates spar over Boyle budget

November 10, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Now is not the time for political posturing, but rather for magistrates to face Boyle County's financial crisis with a spirit of leadership, county Judge-Executive Tony Wilder told the Fiscal Court Tuesday.

He also told magistrates that the county must budget its tax money conservatively because he feared another "big plant" was "teetering" and might leave. The result could cripple the county, he said.

Magistrates are considering deep cuts and a payroll tax increase to relieve the county's crunch.

Wilder was upset about comments Magistrate Phil Sammons made in The Advocate-Messenger Monday. Sammons told the newspaper that he wasn't going to "cry wolf" about a financial crisis and then give county treasurer Mary Lynn a "$9,000 raise," and that he didn't believe in "tax and spend," but rather in "cutting and watching every dime you spend."

"I really believe that these circumstances require leadership," Wilder said. "We've got to refrain from political grandstanding."


Wilder told the court that he wasn't crying wolf, that the county was in a real crisis, facing a $700,000 deficit started when the state stopped housing its juvenile offenders in the county jail.

Boyle used to be paid to house the juveniles, and that money helped pay for the jail. Wilder pointed out that many counties spend twice as much as Boyle on their jails.

"The last two budgets submitted were bare bones," Wilder said, and added that spending on Millennium Park stopped when the state pulled its juveniles.

"We have to put aside the inclination to be petty," he said.

Sammons told Wilder, "I think we need to be conservative, and I don't think we've been as conservative as we could have been."

Wilder said, "If you don't think that we've been conservative, Phil, then you should have said so."

Magistrate John Hudson said he thinks the county shouldn't be so conservative when it projects how much tax money it would collect. Wilder said they are so conservative this year because he feared another factory might pull out of the county.

Wilder has said that while restaurant jobs have offset some of the losses from ATR's closing last year, those jobs weren't the same as high-paying factory jobs. Wilder has said with the economy in such bad shape, he didn't want to bank on another factory building here.

Hudson said that he agreed with Sammons that if the county was in such bad shape then they needed to watch every expense, be it $2,000 or $200,000, because little things add up.

Wilder said he and the court have always watched what they spent.

"I'll stand before anyone ... I'm secure in the fact that I've kept costs down ... we have the lowest tax rates in the state of Kentucky," Wilder said. "After 12 years of increasing services without raising taxes we have to look at doing something ... We had a surplus ... but it's going to run out ... I promise you this, unaltered, we will go broke."

Wilder said he didn't want to be like some counties in the state where magistrates "didn't have the courage" to raise taxes, the fiscal courts went broke and the state had to come in and run them.

Wilder said now the magistrates faced personnel cuts in the emergency medical services, jail and sheriff's office, and that dealt with resident's safety.

"I'll sacrifice my political future to secure the safety of people," Wilder said, implying that he would rather levy a payroll tax than cut police protection, ambulance service or jail deputies.

The court also faces a decision to close the Forkland Convenience Center. It costs $2.55 every time someone drops off their garbage there, and there also are problems with people from out-of-county using it. The center costs $38,000 a year to operate.

Wilder said the magistrates could trim out of the budget, but that even with a 5 percent cut to each department, that includes fewer county employees, and cutting all money to local non-profits, like senior citizens, and parks and recreation the county would still be $600,000 short.

"Let's not scare the senior citizens," Sammons said.

"I full well know the political ramifications (of a payroll tax increase)," Wilder said. "My political situation is secondary to what I do for the people of this county."

Sammons had said earlier that he didn't understand how the county could be in "such bad shape," and then turn around and give Lynn a raise.

"Has anyone on this court spent a day, week with the treasurer and see what she does?" Wilder asked. He told them that Lynn has taken on extra duties and education to manage grants, so that the county didn't have to hire any outside firms.

He said that he was resolute that Lynn had worked the hours she needed to get the job done, and no more. Lynn had worked 32.5 hours a week, like all courthouse employees, and that those hours were set by the court years ago.

Sammons and Hudson both said they had talked to Wilder before about increasing the work week to 40 hours.

Wilder said they could do that, but then they would have to pay for all the employees extra time. Hudson said only Lynn's hours should have been increased, and that he didn't think they should raise her salary to correspond with that.

"Even at 40 hours a week, $40,000 is a pretty good income," Sammons said.

Wilder said that the assistant city manager for Danville makes $58,000 a year, and that Lynn did twice as much for the county.

"That's fine, the city has lots of money," Sammons said.

Wilder said that he believed the magistrates misunderstood what Lynn did for the county, that Sammons had once referred to the position as clerical, which was a gross misunderstanding.

"Her office is one of the most important in this county," Wilder said, later adding that he couldn't see asking anyone to work more hours without more pay.

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