Whitley County Judge-Executive Mike Patrick announced Tuesday that he will probably start looking into the possibility of implementing a payroll tax or possibly a tax on insurance premiums in order to help pay for a raise for 911 and ambulance service workers that was approved Tuesday morning, and other spiraling costs the county is facing.
“I believe that an increase of this type will cost probably in the neighborhood of $100,000 annually, and I don’t know where I am going to get the additional $100,000 worth of income,” Patrick said. “We here in Whitley County aren’t really any different in counterparts in Knox County, or our city up in Corbin that are experiencing budgetary problems and restraints.
“We do have needs and have employees and needs that are going unmet. I think the time has come that we must address the revenue situation, and be looking at what we can do to increase revenue to provide these services that we need to, and that our citizens expect.”
Patrick said the county is currently looking at how to increase its income and that a payroll tax or tax on insurance premiums is a possibility as are cutbacks in various areas.
Patrick said that the county has also seen substantial increases in many other areas besides just the raise for emergency workers in recent years.
“We’ve had really substantial increases in the cost of insurance for employees and for liability. We have had substantial increases because of fuel. I don’t have percentages to give you, but I can tell you that the rate of increase of expenses are going up faster than our income. There is not a great difference in what we are facing here, as any person is facing in this room,” Patrick said following Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting.
Patrick said a possible payroll tax isn’t just about the ambulance service, and is also about services that the county would like to be able to offer.
His office gets calls daily about stray dogs that need to get picked up. The county’s animal control officer, Steve Schwartz also serves as the DES Director and Solid Waste Coordinator, and doesn’t have the time to do it.
“I don’t have the funds to hire a dog catcher,” he added.
Patrick said the ambulance service needs a second base in the Corbin area to improve their response time in that area of the county, but that would mean hiring additional workers, which would cost money that he can’t afford.
“I can’t afford to hire more personnel, but I can see the need that we need to have somebody closer up there,” he added. “It’s the same things we are doing now, but we need to do them better.”
The county is currently dependent on grant money to fund waterline projects, and Patrick said a portion of a payroll tax might set back to improve infrastructure.
“The courthouse building itself needs some maintenance and some work. How do you provide for that,” Patrick said. “I mentioned the sheriff’s department before, when the second leading cause of death a year or so ago was drug overdose in your county, you have a problem. What can you do for that? Do you help solve that problem by taking deputies off the road because you can’t afford to pay them?”
Patrick said the issue of a payroll tax hasn’t come up just overnight, and that it is something he has been putting off hoping that he wouldn’t have to do it.
“Maybe we can be faulted for not acting sooner, but you try to get by and hopes that things are going to get better, and you get here, and they are not necessarily better,” Patrick added.
Patrick the county is very limited in how it can increase income too.
In terms of the ambulance service, two-thirds of the runs are for Medicare patients, and that there is only so much that can be collected.
“We can collect the maximum allowable. We don’t get to set what that is. Somebody else sets that,” Patrick said.
In terms of 911, Patrick said the county might be able to increase the monthly rate it charges on phone bills, but the funds would be limited to the 911 service.
Given the fact that people are increasingly dropping their landlines in favor of just cell phones, fewer people are paying the 95-cent a month payment to the county 911 system.
The formula that determines how the jails get state funding, Patrick said was done in the 1970s, and has undergone cutbacks over the years, which probably have it under even that 1970 level.
If a payroll tax were implemented, which Patrick said is no sure thing at this point, he thinks the money needs to be allocated for set things.
“It shouldn’t be just some big pot that the fiscal court is just able to do with what it wants,” Patrick said. “I think there needs to be some things in there so that so much will go to the ambulance service, and a percentage would be for 911, and a percentage for the road crew. We might want to limit that one for use exclusively in blacktopping gravel roads.
“It needs to have specifics. There needs to be a fairly in-depth plan of how this money would be utilized to benefit the county, and not just a big pot that every year we get to divide up.”
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