The McCracken County Fiscal Court continued its hunt for revenue during the first meeting of 2020 Monday evening, where the group moved closer to implementing an insurance premium tax.

"For so many years there's not been any revenue enhancement at all. I think it's time that this body needs to recognize that there's not been a tax increase for decades," Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said. "We're operating on the revenue that we were 30 years ago at the same rate."

Though no action was taken, Clymer did propose that the group consider an 8 percent tax on all forms of insurance within the county, including health, home and automobile.

An 8 percent tax, estimated Deputy Judge-Executive Steve Doolittle, could produce roughly $2.8 million for McCracken. A third of Kentucky's 120 counties have similar taxes.

All three commissioners agreed on the need for more revenue in the county due to deficit spending in recent years.

Doolittle believes the county is $2 million short in necessary fund balance. As previously reported, the county plans on deficit spending $900,000 in the next year with an additional $200,000 in new pension costs coming down the pike in Fiscal Year 2021.

The revenue from this tax, Clymer explained, could not only allay the county's financial shortfalls brought about in recent years by increased pension costs -- among other reasons -- but also eventually be used to better compensate the county's employees.

Commissioner Jeff Parker expressed a desire to have a direct plan for any revenue gained.

"I don't have a problem with generating more revenue as long as we know what we're going to do with it," he said.

A key discussion point for Commissioner Eddie Jones was the amount of investments made by the county during previous administrations.

"From 2011 to 2013, the county borrowed $16.5 million, all for noble projects. We now have Murray State University here, but we're still paying for that," Jones explained. "I certainly see the need for additional revenue."

Commissioner Bill Bartleman took a similar stance.

"We can't go back and redo any of those (projects) because we have obligations. The pension fund -- that's a dark hole. We can't control any of that," he said. "Nobody likes to talk about tax increases and nobody likes to increase taxes but we're going to have to do something to get the county back on track."

In order to collect revenue from an insurance premium tax by the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021, the court must agree on and pass a resolution to send to the state by its first March meeting. The court returned to discussions of outside agency funding, which have stumbled over the past several months as it continues to deal with financial hardship.

"We're shoestring all around," said Clymer. "We're in poor financial shape to be spending money really on these outside agencies, but they do good work in our community."

Clymer and the commissioners agreed that the county's annual contributions of $250,000 to Greater Paducah Economic Development (GPED) and $86,000 to Barkley Regional Airport would remain in place with the others -- which include the McCracken County Senior Citizen Center, the Court Appointed Special Advocate program and several local youth sports organizations, among others -- to be looked over.

"These are all worthy organizations that provide some great services to the community and I think as we make our decision we need to look at their financial need," Bartleman said. "I'm not questioning the services the provide, I'm questioning whether or not they really need our funds."

The court plans to return to the subject at the next meeting for a final decision.

In other fiscal court happenings:

• The county approved the judge-executive to contribute up to $140,000 towards Barkley Regional Airport's new passenger terminal project to keep the airport's fundraising efforts on pace.

• Discussions surrounding the funding of the clearing of I-24 Park and as well as a wetland delineation project through Tennessee Valley Authority's Regional Development Agency Assistance Program were ultimately delayed the court's decision until its next meeting.

• Commissioners Parker and Jones were appointed to the Government Affairs Task Force committee of GPED.

The next meeting of the McCracken County Fiscal Court is Jan. 27.

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