For the second week in a row, the McCracken County courthouse was crowded with residents opposing the implementation of an insurance premium tax. The fiscal court unanimously passed the ordinance containing the tax Monday evening.
"We don't like taxes and we know people don't like taxes," McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer told the public. "The way I look at it is you keep your own property up and you keep it nice. You want your street, your neighborhood and your block to be nice. Don't you want your county to be nice, too?"
For Clymer, "nice" means having "the basic things" like funded fire, law enforcement and road departments, among other county services. These funds will enable the county to continue offering those to the best of its ability.
The following tax rates will be assessed on insurance premiums: 6.9 percent on automobile insurance; 6.9 on life insurance (only the first year would be taxed); 4.9 percent on fire and allied perils (which includes home insurance); 4.9 percent on inland marine insurance; 4.9 on casualty insurance; 4.9 on all other risk insurance; and 0 on health insurance. People living inside Paducah city limits will not pay the county's tax.
Dan Thomas, the first to speak, referenced weaknesses in financial responsibility addressed in government audits of the immediate previous fiscal court.
"It's my opinion that that there have been several deficiencies with the fiduciary responsibility of this fiscal court. Therefore why enact an additional tax until all deficiencies are corrected," he said. "How do we really know if your proposals and requests are indeed accurate because in the past so many of them have not been?"
Investments made by previous courts without a revenue source are a major factor in why the county is seeking this tax, along with increases in health care costs for its employees and the state's pension crisis.
"We are paying for mistakes of past courts," responded Commissioner Jeff Parker. "We inherited a lot of this. When we took office, the first thing we done was an audit and found out we were broke. We're stuck with fixing it."
The mistakes accumulated over the past decade, decreasing the county's reserve fund from nearly $9 million in 2011 to less than $1 million in October 2018, a month before the present court took office.
Commissioner Bill Bartleman stressed the situation's urgency during the discussion.
"We want the best for McCracken County and we hope you want the best for McCracken County," Bartleman added. "If we want McCracken County to grow and prosper we have to put our financial house in order and strive for the best we can be to tap (our) potential.
"We can't afford to defer actions and kick the can down the road. It's time to pick up the can and take action."
Ryan Massey, one of 11 members of the public to address the court out of over 40 attendees, had hoped the court would take some of the unknowns out of the equation -- such as the amount of revenue that will be collected when the property valuation administrator completes a full evaluation of the county or a better estimate for the revenue that will be gained from this tax -- before passing the ordinance.
"You're getting ready to generate some revenue that's been long overdue. There's no doubt that the PVA has messed up," added Massey, who owns and rents multiple properties in McCracken County. "We don't know what those numbers are yet and we need to see those numbers come in before you make a decision like this."
Some attendees proposed alternative methods of revenue like flat rate taxes instead of a percentage, and taxes on cell phones, utility bills or a sales tax -- none of which the county is legally allowed to pursue.
The county will see the first revenue from this tax in October.
Later in the meeting, the judge-executive read portions of a letter from a member of the National Transportation Safety Board complimenting the county's first responders on their actions, efficiency, help and hospitality in the wake of the airplane crash near Barkley Regional Airport in October.
The next meeting of the McCracken County Fiscal Court will take place on Feb. 24.