Editorial: Wilder's answers about tax increase raise more questions

December 05, 2004

Boyle Judge-Executive Tony Wilder's answer to the "double-taxation" question still falls short.

At public hearing on his payroll tax increase proposal Tuesday in Perryville, Wilder correctly pointed out that Danville residents are served by the jail, ambulance service, trash convenience centers and animal control, and that these services that are totally funded by the county.

We wouldn't argue the judge-executive's statement. County government does provide a lot valuable services to the people of Boyle County, including those who live within the borders of the county's three cities.

Still, Wilder failed to mention the three types of countywide services specifically listed in our editorial last Sunday: parks and recreation, planning and zoning and the senior citizens center. Our point was that even though those services are countywide, the county only provides half, at most, of the funding, with the city of Danville picking up all or most of the rest of the cost. In our view, that is unfair to Danville taxpayers who end up paying twice for these countywide services: The cost should be spread evenly over the whole county.


But this is an old argument that's unlikely to be put to rest anytime soon. In fact, it is only relevant now because Wilder has suggested that part of the proceeds of his proposed payroll tax would be sort of rebated back to Junction City and Perryville.

We still question the wisdom of giving money back to two of the cities in the county and not a third. Every county-funded service Wilder mentioned in his speech Tuesday is provided, as needed, to residents of all three cities in the county. Yet he has suggested making cash refunds to only two of those cities.

Tuesday night, Wilder warned of financial insolvency at either Perryville or Junction City. "If they go bankrupt, who is going to have to help - the county ...," Wilder told the crowd.

It seems to us that the county government and the governments of the county's three cities should stand on their own feet. If Perryville or Junction City go "bankrupt," it will be because their leaders either spend too much or tax too little. Either way, they have no more claim to the proceeds of a county tax increase than does the city of Danville, which has managed its finances responsibly enough to avoid a financial crisis.

Wilder has shown strong leadership in his years as judge-executive in bringing about improvements in county services. The county needed a new jail; it needed a professional ambulance service; and it needed the convenience centers.

At the same time, that doesn't mean that when Wilder says the county needs what amounts to an increase in the payroll tax of nearly 90 percent - from the current 0.45 percent to 0.85 percent - that he shouldn't be questioned closely about the need for the tax and about how he plans to use the money.

Which brings up another question:

The main drain on the county treasury over the past couple of years has been the county jail, which lost over $400,000 in revenues when it could no longer hold juvenile prisoners.

Now it looks as if the jail may be able to make up the shortfall by housing more state prisoners. Boyle Jailer Barry Harmon told the Mercer Fiscal Court Nov. 23 that the state is considering a measure that would reduce the amount of space necessary for each prisoner from 70 square feet to 40 square feet. With that change, Harmon said, jail revenues could be boosted by more than $400,000 a year, greatly reducing the amount Mercer and Boyle have to contribute to the operation of the joint jail. Harmon said the change could come in January.

Shouldn't Wilder and the fiscal court wait to find out if the jail's finances improve before passing a tax increase?

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