Amid a state-mandated 12 percent hike in pension costs, Warren Fiscal Court on Tuesday approved the first reading of a budget expected to guide the county through the next fiscal year.
The budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 calls for roughly $43.8 million in expenditures, nearly $1 million more than the $42.9 million budget for the current fiscal year.
County Treasurer Greg Burrell said the increase in the budget, which needs to pass on second reading before it can be sent to Frankfort for approval, is largely because of an increase in costs associated with personnel.
Burrell called particular attention to the 12 percent increase in the county’s contributions to the state’s ailing pension system, which has been a financial hurdle for local governments across the state.
“This was the second year of a five-year phase-in, so we’re going to see a 12 percent increase on retirement,” Burrell said.
Additionally, a 2 percent pay increase for all county employees will cost roughly $200,000, he said.
Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said the budget increase shouldn’t mean an increase in the county’s property tax rate.
“We don’t anticipate that,” he said.
Taxes weren’t mentioned during the meeting, and Buchanon said he previously advised the magistrates not to raise the county’s property tax rates.
The county’s tax rate on real property has remained at 14.5 cents per $100 of assessed value since 2008.
While crafting the budget, Burrell said he asked the heads of the various county departments to cut spending where they could, though he and Buchanon acknowledged that, for some departments, this was extremely difficult.
“It’s remarkable how responsive they are to try and make their cost cuts as much as they can, but it’s very difficult when you’re already pretty lean,” Buchanon said.
In another matter, fiscal court approved Jailer Stephen Harmon’s request to pay Arnold Consulting Engineering Services $15,000 to review the jail and “determine (the) most feasible location and budgetary estimates of expansion opportunities.”
Harmon said fiscal court is giving his office permission to spend the money, though it might not be needed because he’s currently looking at the possibility of procuring a building near the jail and expanding jail facilities into it. “There’s a chance we may be able to look into that,” he said.
The Warren County jail is a 562-bed facility that typically houses 700 to 750 inmates, Harmon said.
“We’re still operating with the same bed count number as we were 20 years ago,” he said, adding that the jail’s population has risen, along with Warren County’s population.
“We’ve always got inmates housed on the floor on two mats,” he said, adding that overcrowding is common in Kentucky jails.
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