Warren Fiscal Court approved Friday on first reading a 2020-21 fiscal year budget of $48.5 million that projects no tax increase and includes a hefty boost to the county’s contingency fund as a hedge against uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic.
The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is an increase of about $4.5 million from the current fiscal year budget, but Treasurer Greg Burrell said the increase is due mostly to that contingency fund.
Burrell said he included $6 million in the contingency fund – a significant increase from the $750,000 to $1 million that is typically included – largely because much of the effects of the coronavirus shutdowns are still unknown.
“It’s just a reserve fund to be able to transfer money out of when we have shortfalls in other areas or overruns in COVID-19 expenses,” Burrell said.
Having the reserve fund can also allow fiscal court to avoid doing a budget amendment when the county receives funding expected from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Burrell said.
Burrell said coronavirus-related expenses have reached $200,000 and continue to mount as the county spends more for such items as sanitizer, thermometers, testing, extra cleaning and overtime for emergency management and the sheriff’s office.
Making a projection about revenue and expenses was unusually difficult this year because of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, Burrell said.
“We don’t know the impact yet,” he said. “We won’t see how it affects the occupational tax until July, but we’re expecting a significant drop in occupational tax revenue and hotel tax revenue.”
Burrell said property tax revenue, which makes up more than half of the county’s total budget, should not see an immediate decrease.
“But there could be an impact on property values two or three years down the road,” he said.
Although tax rates ultimately are decided by the magistrates, Burrell said his budget doesn’t call for any increase.
“We want to keep everybody employed and keep services the same,” he said. “We want to try to ride this year out and see what the impact (of COVID-19) is.”
Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon agreed with that strategy, saying: “We’re not creating any extra tax burden. Right now would be the absolute worst time to impose any new tax burden on residents.”
The budget includes $30.6 million for the general fund, $3.6 million for the road fund and $8.5 million for the jail fund as major spending items.
The magistrates also approved Friday spending $17,450 to purchase an electronic variable message board from Saf-ti-Co of Louisville. Warren County Public Works Director Josh Moore said in a memo about the purchase that this will be the second such message board purchased by his department. The first one is used out of Buchanon Park. The second one will be stored at Ephram White Park.
In his memo, Moore said the boards are used to “notify the public of changes to traffic flow and special events.”
Magistrates also approved the request of Sheriff Brett Hightower to purchase, for $45,846.18, a 2020 Chevy Tahoe through Enterprise Fleet Management as a replacement for the vehicle that was destroyed during a March collision that injured Deputy Phillip Gaines.
The Warren County Drug Task Force was approved to purchase a $5,700 Tactical Ballistic Shield from Pro-Tech. The purchase is being made with asset forfeiture funds.
Also approved was an $8,826.41 expenditure to Clarke Mosquito Control for mosquito spray to be used by the county road department.
Magistrates approved a change order in the amount of $10,988.65 to Buck Electric for eight additional fixtures for the new LED lighting at the football field at Basil Griffin Park.
In another parks department item, the magistrates approved spending $11,500 to purchase a steam pressure washing system from Big Red Supply. The equipment will be used throughout county parks to sanitize playgrounds and other equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday’s meeting was held via videoconference, and Buchanon said the meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. June 12 will also be held virtually as the county continues to observe social distancing protocols.
Buchanon said plans call for the county courthouse to reopen July 6 as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted.
“The courthouse staff has continued to provide services, but they have done it through the internet or by fax, phone and window service,” Buchanon said. “When we open on July 6, we should be totally prepared to keep everyone safe.”