The proposed change to the structure of the Clark County Fiscal Court could have financial ramifications.
On the Nov. 6 ballot, voters will be asked to respond to a question on the size and system of the Fiscal Court, which consists of three comissioners and a judge-executive. The commissioners represent districts but are elected by voters throughout the county.
The proposed change would be to return to a magistrate system. Six magistrates would be elected by, and represent, six seperate districts in the county. Those six magistrates and the judge-executive would make up the Fiscal Court after the current term, which ends in 2015.
Voters chose the current system in 2006 after Leland “Tubby” True led an effort to get the question on that year’s ballot. The measure passed with 4,985 votes, about 59 percent, in favor of the change and 3,467, 41 percent, voted against it.
True’s efforts came directly in response to a much maligned insurance tax passed in 2005. True had led the opposition against the tax and ran for judge-executive in 2006.
“This all started last year when the insurance tax issue came up,” True told the Sun in 2006. His efforts to promote the government change were “to help the county save money.”
Those efforts were almost derailed in 2010. The new structure didn’t take affect until January 2011. The rate of pay for magistrates or commissioners is set in the previous year. In 2010, the court voted 5-3 to give the newly created commissioner positions a raise of $100, from about $744 to about $844 per month. Some on the court wanted to keep a lower rate, while others lobbied for a significant rate change, asking to split the total salary for all seven magistrates among the new commissioners.
Expanding the court from three commissioners to six magistrates could effectively double the cost of running the court. While salary rates and the expense allowance of $300 could be altered by the court prior the change, the expenses of health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, training incentives, retirements and reimbursements would still increase with the size of the Fiscal Court, and potentially raise the total operating cost of county government.
Two of the current commissioners do not use the county-provided health insurance, but Judge-Executive Henry Branham said the budget would be set based on a worst-case scenario.
“The Fiscal Court will fund with everyone with health insurance and benefits,” he said. “We don’t know who will fill those positions, so we have to budget at the maximum.”
In July, a group led by former magistrates Joe McCord and Pam Blackburn championed a petition that allows voters to revisit the question of Fiscal Court structure in the coming weeks. The petitioners argued that the current system cannot adequately represent the entire county, in particular, rural communities.
Commissioner Vanessa Rogers told the Sun in July she thought the current system is unfair to county residents.
“I think we do need more than three commissioners, and the primary season¿I think that is because it is possible to have all three county commissioners live in the city limits, and the representation for the county folk would decrease,” she said. “We have different issues in the county. I¿also think we could use a few more opinions.”
None of the three current commissioners, Rogers, Rick Smith or JoEllen Reed, live in the city limits.
Opponents of the change cite the short time the three-commissioner court has been in use.
“If they aren’t satisfied with the commissioners, don’t change the system, change who is in there,” former Clark County judge-executive and county attorney Gardner Wagers said. “If these people aren’t responding well enough to their constituents, that’s what elections are for.”
Wagers has circulated flyers arguing against the change. The cost for Clark County voters for the next four years could be as much as $354,000, Wagers said. Though that is assuming the current salary for commissioners is maintained for the magistrates and all benefits available are taken.
Branham has said previously he sees the benefits to both government formats, but has heard many voters express concerns over a lack of representation. Still, the short period with the three-commissioner format could be a cause for concern.
“Sometimes I do wonder if all the benefits of this type of government have been explored,” he said.
On Nov. 6, voters will be asked, “Are you in favor of a return to a Fiscal Court composed of the county judge-executive and six magistrates (justices of the peace) who shall represent specific districts within the county?”
Voters who select “Yes” on the ballot will be for moving to a six-magistrate Fiscal Court. Those who vote “No” will be in favor of keeping the current three-commissioner format.
The topic will be discussed at the candidates forum tonight at the Clark County Cooperative Extension Office. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and discussion of the potential Fiscal Court change is scheduled to begin at 7:20 p.m. Branham and Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas will answer questions about the change.
Contact Casey Castle at email@example.com.