LANCASTER — Garrard Fiscal Court declined to approve a tax increase Wednesday for the health department.
The health district had requested its tax rate be increased by .25 of a cent, citing the need to offset cuts in funding and avoid possible layoffs.
“We have had significant cuts to our federal dollars, state dollars,” said Marcia Hodge, director of the health department.
The current rate is 4 cents for every $100 of property valuation, and the proposed rate was 4.25 cents per every $100.
Last year, the health district received $327,144 in tax revenue. The board estimated that, by leaving its rate at 4 cents for every $100, it would bring in about $338,750. With an adjustment to 4.25 cents for every $100, the board anticipated it would bring in an additional $21,000, totaling about $359,922 for 2013.
“We were hoping to raise the local rate, to be able to still offer the same level of services here locally,” Hodge said.
However, the measure failed.
“I feel like this is the wrong time to raise taxes,” Magistrate Ronnie Lane said.
Hodge says that without the increase, layoffs in the health department are imminent.
“There are a lot of people in the county that raised a lot of problems for us, a lot of complaints for us, because we were going to cut back on our staff. If there’s not money to pay people, they’re not going to come for free,” she said.
Andrew Hartley, staff attorney for the Department of Local Government, explained that Kentucky statutes say the county is responsible for funding the health district in a way that is sufficient to meet the needs. The health district in Garrard County can request the Fiscal Court to establish a tax level that the health district has deemed appropriate.
When the two bodies disagree, as is the case in Garrard County, a mutual agreement must be reached.
“The parties have to go back to the drawing board and agree on a rate,” Hartley said.
Reaching a mutual agreement may be easier said than done in Garrard County. According to Judge-Executive John Wilson, taxes are the same as they were 12 years ago.
There is no deadline for the paperwork to be in; however, if the rate has not been agreed upon by the time the tax bills are printed, according to Hartley, there will have to be a second printing of those bills. The Garrard tax bills are scheduled to be sent out by Sept. 30, which means they need to be sent to the printer immediately, Wilson explained.
For Hodge, it seems the Fiscal Court doesn’t understand the financial situation the health district is in or that there are many individuals out there who have “nowhere else to go besides the health department.”
“They (the board) don’t take it lightly, and they spent a long time doing it,” Hodge said, explaining the time the health board spent reviewing what steps needed to be taken before deciding on the proposed rate. The board is comprised of several doctors and others who "take their jobs very seriously,” according to Wilson.
“I don’t care who brings a tax raise to the Fiscal Court, it’s a no,” Lane said.
Wilson said many magistrates are feeling pressure in their districts, as constituents are being forced to watch their budgets more tightly than before.
“I am definitely sympathetic to the needs of the health department, but everybody’s feeling the financial pinch right now,” he said.
It is a balancing act between what the public is willing to pay for what they will receive.
“If the public wants to pay less taxes, then there will be less services. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide,” Wilson said.