Despite the $2.5 million deficit facing the county, McLean Fiscal Court opted to lower real property taxes and not to raise motor vehicle and watercraft tax rates for the 2019-20 year during its special-called meeting this week at the McLean County Courthouse.

Real property tax rates will decrease by 0.1%, which will change the current tax rate of 15.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 15.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. For a resident with a house valued at $100,000, they would pay $1,550 per year with the new rate, as opposed to the $1,560 paid now.

Motor vehicle and watercraft property tax will stay the same at 12.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Edward West, McLean County judge-executive, said after the court meeting that he did not see "any reason to raise taxes" as long as the county can "maintain services that people expect and deserve" in addition to meeting payroll.

In July, the county had to open up a $499,999 line of credit and borrowed $80,000 in June to make payroll.

West said that solving the county's debt issue will take time. He said McLean County's "saving grace" is that taxes are lower there than in neighboring counties.

"We're attempting to bring people into our county," he said.

He also said this tax rate makes starting a business in the county more affordable, something he has spoken about on multiple occasions.

West also said that the county has agreed to pay out $400,000 toward the debt out of incoming coal severance money.

"We're slowly paying that back and we've signed an agreement with the Department for Local Government to use a portion of our coal severance money to do just that," he said.

West said that because a second coal mine has opened up in McLean, the county will receive more coal severance money and the governor has promised to do what he can to return severance money in full rather than the smaller portions that the county has been receiving.

He said that receiving a larger portion of the severance money at once will make a significant difference and that the county will "be able to pay the debt back in full and be able to move the county forward in a positive direction."

Also discussed were plans for how to spend the county's coal severance money, which is garnered from excess coal tax revenue collected and is then allocated to coal-producing and coal-impacted counties. The money is expected to arrive before the end of this year.

McLean County has already received $265,000 in LGEA funds and will receive approximately $400,000 more in coal severance money over the next several months.

Fiscal Court approved a motion to use the $265,000 already received in coal severance to pay toward the line of credit the county took out with First Security Bank in July.

Magistrate Joey Lowery noted that by paying off the loan with the severance money, the court is left with no day-to-day funds.

Magistrate Robert Bishop said that since there are restrictions on what the severance money can be used for, it would be beneficial for the county to use the $265,000 to pay on the First Security Bank loan to stop any incurring interest and use the loan money for day-to-day funding.

Fiscal Court also approved a change to the COMP time ordinance, which would require county employees to accept up to 80 hours in time off instead of overtime pay. Bishop motioned to amend the ordinance, however, to remove the last paragraph that explains how to cash in comp time for overtime pay.

"We are not paying out comp time, we have to use it as time off," Bishop said. "That was the whole point with doing away with the overtime because we don't have it in the budget. It has to be used instead of paid."

The COMP ordinance, according to West, will only affect county employees. He said that employees cannot be forced to take comp time instead of getting paid for overtime, but that comp time is a condition of allowing them to work overtime. West said that county employees will occasionally be allowed overtime in lieu of comp time in special and emergency situations such as severe weather conditions.

A continuing partnership between McLean Fiscal Court and the McLean County Extension Service was also discussed.

Fiscal Court has a partnership with the UK Cooperative Extension Service in which the county agrees to a yearly contribution to the extension service, according to a representative from the Extension District Board in McLean County. The county currently has a balance of $34,000 with the extension service that is unpaid from the 2018-19 fiscal year, the representative said.

Lowery called on Curtis Dame, a Hopkins County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, to speak with the court about other possibilities for fulfilling the county's financial obligation to the extension service outside of paying out cash.

According to Dame, the extension service in Hopkins County just completed a large scale farmers market project with the city of Madisonville in which the extension service has leased a property for a period of 99 years. Dame said that project has enabled the Hopkins County Extension Service to finish its market two months ahead of schedule and receive federal and state grant money.

"It would show merit for a hundred years," Dame said. "That process may be arduous, but it is possible...this unique agreement could help the extension service here to accomplish their mission, which is to serve not only the agriculture community, but the youth as well."

Fiscal Court will meet with the McLean County Extension District Board on Aug. 27 to discuss options for fulfilling the county's financial obligation to the extension service and will vote on the matter during a future fiscal court meeting.

cnetherton@mcleannews.com, 270-691-7360

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