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Health board approves flat tax rate, fewer furlough hours for employees

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By BEN CARLSON

With the specter of the fiscal court approving a tax rate increase looming over its head, the Anderson County Board of Health voted unanimously recently to keep its tax rate flat.
Fresh off being informed by County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis that the fiscal court would have to vote to include its rate on property tax bills, health board members batted around several rate increase options, including raising the tax rate from 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to 40 cents.
Following a discussion by board chairman Steve Carmichael about raising the rate to 35 cents per $1,000, board member Keith Klink asked Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway if he thought the fiscal court would approve that much of an increase.
“They won’t approve it,” Conway said. “I can’t speak for the each magistrate, but the majority won’t do it.”
Board members also approved the department’s budget for the coming fiscal year, which included cutting furlough hours for staff from three hours each week to one and a half.
That measure passed 5-2, with board members Mark Tussey and Klink voting no.
Health Director Tim Wright cautioned the board before the votes that without a rate increase, the department will likely have around $105,000 in its reserve funds at the conclusion of the coming budget year.
Conway at one point appeared to question Wright’s figures.
“That should come in as more,” Conway said of the surplus. “I know how he’s figured this and how he should have figured it.”
“Those are real numbers, judge,” Wright countered.
“So are mine,” Conway said.
The disagreement appeared to be over revenue the department didn’t receive in the current year from Kentucky Spirit, a Medicaid provider that has refused payments to health departments across the state.
Wright said Kentucky Spirit owes his department around $200,000, $60,000 of which would have to be turned over the state government for Medicaid match.
If the department receives that amount of money in the coming year from whichever Medicaid provider takes Kentucky Spirit’s place, the $140,000 in revenue missed during the current year would be replaced, boosting Wright’s forecasted surplus from $105,000 to $245,000.
During the meeting, Tussey led the charge against increasing the tax rate, and lobbied against restoring furlough hours for the time being.
“I’ve made no secret that I’d auction off the big screen TVs and furniture in here before I’d raise taxes,” Tussey said.
Carmichael countered that a rate increase to 35 cents would make the department more fiscally stable.
“The difference is 83 cents [in property taxes] a month,” he said. “That’s a Coke at McDonald’s a week.”
“That’s just one part of the tax bill,” Tussey countered, “and these things compound on each other. I have a lot of heartburn over raising taxes in a recession, if not a depression. I’ve never seen so many foreclosures in my life.”
Tussey also lobbied to keep furlough days intact until the board has a chance to see how the coming year shapes up financially.
“Across all industries we’re seeing wage freezes or wages going down,” Tussey said.
Board member Don Wells asked Wright how many of his employees would leave the department if the furloughs remained intact.
“Four,” Wright said.
“How many are you confident will do that?” asked Wells.
“Three,” said Wright.