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Still no budget: Fiscal Court meets again Tuesday

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Bullitt County government must have a budget approved by July 1 but it wasn't going to be decided on Friday night at a special meeting.

After listening to several comments from the audience, magistrates opted to return on Tuesday night to make a final decision on the proposed $18.9 million budget.

Each of the magistrates, as well as county judge Melanie Roberts, expressed concerns about the proposed budget as reasons to not vote.

In fact, all five fiscal court members voted against the proposal.

First District magistrate Ruthie Ashbaugh said her only concern was the original 50-cent per hour raise for all county employees. In the latest version, the pay increase had been chopped in half.

She felt with a reserve account of nearly $1 million, the money could be found to give employees the 50-cent raise.

Dan Kelty, who represents the Second District, said he was concerned about the raises and the funding request by the Soil Conservation District.

In terms of the raises, he was torn between the 25-cent and 50-cent raises.

"If the money is there, we need to take care of our employees," said Kelty.

But he wasn't convinced the money would be present to allow the higher increases.

He was also concerned about some of the comments made by members of the Bullitt County Soil Conservation District.

Chairman George Hendermann outlined the previous requests for more funding from fiscal court. Those discussions did lead to an increase to $55,000 in the current budget year.

With that money, Hendermann said the soil conservation district has been able to see a return of the dead animal removal program and return of the essay and poster contests for students. Other programs included the distribution of over 3,000 free trees and sponsorship of a Farm Day program for kids.

This year, the district requested $108,984.

If fiscal court doesn't approve the funding, Hendermann said it must provide reasons why and suggestions on how to make the approved funding work.

Without that, the district could file suit against Bullitt Fiscal Court and seek a millage tax on property owners.

Cindy Badder, who handles the day-to-day operations of the soil conservation program, said there are so many more things that could be done, including more grant money.

The county will receive funds to assist with a fall junk pickup thanks to the work of the district.

On a $100,000 home, she estimated the new tax would be $20.

County attorney Monica Meredith Robinson said no matter the decision of fiscal court, there is the issue of "workable budget" that must be determined by the state Department of Revenue.

"There's no simple answer to that," said Robinson.

Both Robinson and magistrate John Bradshaw considered the talk of litigation as a threat and both said they didn't appreciate it.

Hendermann said it wasn't meant to be a threat but he wanted to advise magistrates of the next option. He was told by the previous fiscal court that after the elections, the funding options would be discussed. But they weren't and the issue was left for the current group.

Third District magistrate Joe Laswell said he was fine with the 25-cent increases.

His biggest concern is revenue in the future.

In talking with property valuation administrator Bruce Johnson, Laswell said he got concerned over the growing number of people eligible for homestead exemptions and how much that would reduce tax revenue.

He didn't want to get into the position of having to borrow money to bridge the time each summer until tax revenue began in October.

Laswell said he was happy the county hasn't had to lay off employees and that the workers should be satisfied to get some increase and to have a job.

He also didn't appreciate the threatening tone of the conservation district.

For Bradshaw, he was ready to vote yes for the presented budget, if it got to that point.

His biggest concern is looking at the parks and recreation budget to see if additional funds could be added.

Steve Larimore, chairman of the parks board, said the members were disappointed in the cuts made.

Over the past year, the budget had been cut 46 percent since the YMCA was contracted to manage the sports programs and the pools.

Under the proposed budget, Larimore said the plans to do more community projects in places like Nichols and with walking trails at the schools can't be done.

In addressing fiscal court on Tuesday and again on Friday, Larimore said board members were also concerned with basically combining the two salaries and splitting the money. He felt the assistant director's position needs to stay intact and the maintenance person needs to be paid at a higher rate.

"It's a vote of no confidence," said Larimore. "It's very discouraging."

Bradshaw said he understood the concerns and hoped to see some changes be made in that department.

Bob Combest, a regular meeting attendee, said he was disappointed that the county couldn't find more money for the senior citizens program. 

And Roanne Hammond, the new planning and zoning administrator, said she felt the employees deserved the 50-cent per hour increase. She said it is better to pay them rather than lose them and have to train new staff.

Roberts said she strongly hopes the magistrates will agree to the 50-cent raises.

"They deserve it. They work hard," said Roberts. "I think we can find the money."

While hoping to have a budget approved at this point, Roberts said the process has been a good one.

The magistrates are receiving comments from their constituents and they are trying to get the best budget possible, said Roberts.

"This is what democracy is all about," said Roberts.

The court will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28, in the courthouse. The public is invited to attend.