Simpson County votes to switch to water meter fees to cover 911 expenses

Carroll Duckworth, Community Action of Southern Kentucky’s director of transportation services, speaks about Community Action’s plans to expand transportation services to numerous counties in its coverage area.

FRANKLIN – Soon, all Simpson County residents with a water meter will contribute each month to the county’s 911 operations.

Simpson County Judge-Executive Mason Barnes said a $2 monthly fee that has been applied to landline phones will instead apply to water bills. According to Barnes, the change is necessary because 911 operations are currently funded by the landline fee, which brings in less money as people increasingly abandon landlines in favor of cellphones.

Barnes said implementation of the new water-meter fee is probably at least three months away.

“As recent as 2004, we had almost 8,000 landline phones in operation in Simpson County. Today, we have less than 3,000,” he said. “So you could see if you have a 5,000 phone decline, you’ve lost $10,000 a month. At 12 months, you’ve lost over $120,000 in revenue.”

The agreement with the Simpson County Water District, which will collect the fees, required Simpson County Fiscal Court to pay about $37,000 for the technology needed to monitor and gather the fees.

East District Magistrate Marty Chandler, the only member of fiscal court to vote against the measure, said he didn’t agree with paying the money needed to allow the water district to collect the fee because the payment would take a while to recoup.

“When you sit there and run the fees, you’re six months into it before you ever collect the first dollar. ... I thought there was a better way of collecting that that wouldn’t have cost us so much,” he said.

Barnes later said the $37,000 payment is preferable to continuing with fiscal court’s current method of funding 911 operations, which includes paying $130,000 each year to cover the funding shortfall caused by the lack of landline phones.

In another matter, fiscal court received an update on Community Action of Southern Kentucky’s plan to expand its transportation services into several counties, including Simpson.

Carroll Duckworth, Community Action’s director of transportation services, explained the organization’s plan to extend transportation services to every county in its service area, except for Monroe, which already has a transit provider.

“What that would do is provide individuals the opportunity to be picked up at their home or at a different location and be taken to wherever they need to go within our nine-county area,” he said.

“Our 10-county operation serves multiple programs with Community Action. It just makes sense that (our) transportation also goes to all 10 counties.”

Duckworth said Community Action has applied for $7.4 million in grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration. However, if that funding is procured, Community Action would need an additional $1.4 million in local match funding.

“That’s a lot of money, but we’re also talking about building an infrastructure from scratch,” he said. “We’re talking about a new administration office, we’re talking about 55 vehicles. We’re talking about 50 new employees.”

Duckworth said that $1.4 million local match could be split among the counties and could include in-kind donations.

Barnes said he likes the idea of Community Action’s proposed expansion of its transportation services, which he considers to have a lot of potential value for rural residents. He expressed concern, however, about the county’s ability to provide the sort of contribution Community Action needs to go through with the expansion, explaining that he expects the county to have to put roughly $9 million toward fixing the state’s pension crisis over the next 10 years.

“We will be hard-pressed to come up with additional funding to help with (the) transportation project,” he said. “Now, I would like to help with it. I hope we’re able to help with it and I think it’s a great idea, but Simpson County’s participation will solely be based on our ability to cover the cost of it.”

In another matter, Barnes announced plans to create a Complete Count Committee for Simpson County of “local elected officials and community leaders” to encourage participation in the census.

Crystal Boyett, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, said the numerous streams of federal funding are based on local population counts.

“If we miss one person in the state of Kentucky, it equates to be about $972 of potential federal funds that the county misses out on,” she said, adding that this amount will be missed each year until the next census in 2030.

Barnes said he wants the committee established no later than mid-June.

Fiscal court also granted permission for the Simpson County Historical Society to establish an escape room in two rooms in the courthouse that Barnes described as “abandoned office space” during the county’s July 4 celebration.

– Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.

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General assignment reporter focusing on features and regional coverage.

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