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During Monday’s special meeting of the Pike County Fiscal Court, officials were set to acknowledge Pike County Clerk Rhonda Taylor’s proposed budget  for the 2020 calendar year. However, the court was unable to accept the budget due to Taylor requesting approximately $325,000 to cover her office’s deficits for the previous years.

During Monday’s special meeting of the Pike County Fiscal Court, officials acknowledged receipt of the Pike County Clerk’s Office’s proposed budget for the 2020 calendar year. However, the court decided to revisit this topic during the next fiscal court meeting after Pike County Clerk Rhonda Taylor proposed the court supplement her office approximately $325,000, which would cover a $24,000 deficit from 2018 and a $60,000 deficit from 2019. Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones said the court was not in the position to do that at this time, as it would cause “major problems” for the court’s budget.

“I’m here to present my proposed budget for 2020,” Taylor said. “And I’m proposing that the 25 percent that we send to the court be returned to the county clerk’s office.”

According to Jones, he doesn’t believe the court has had a real opportunity to look at the budget, due to the court meeting being the first day that any of the officials had been given a copy of the proposed budget. He added that the court had no idea Taylor would be requesting a $325,000 supplement.

“Rhonda, I don’t think we have this in here and this is something new for us,” Jones said. “We’re being asked to return $325,000. If we do that, it’s going to cause major problems to our budget.”

Taylor said it was crucial that court agree to give her office the money, due to the substantial deficit of $84,000.

“It’s one thing for us to talk about trying to help with the deficit, but you’ve got in here $325,000,” Jones said.

Due to those possible implications, Jones said he doesn’t believe the court is prepared to act on Taylor’s request.

“We would have to sit down with our treasurer to find out exactly what this would do to our budget,” Jones said. “I mean we had budgeted the sheriff the same amount we did last year, but there was no supplement in our budget.”

The court’s budget runs on a fiscal year, as opposed to the clerk’s office and the sheriff’s department, which runs on a calendar year. According to Jones, the court’s budget spans from July 1 to June 30, whereas the clerk’s and the sheriff’s budget runs through Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

“Yours runs at a different cycle, so there’s no way that we’re prepared to act on this today,” Jones said. “And if your budget has got to be in by Jan. 15, as I understand it, we’re not prepared to act on this. With open meetings law, we can’t discuss this other than in open court. So it would be my motion that we pass over this, because we are not in the position to return $325,000.”

Taylor asked the court what they would be in position to return, to which Jones replied “there’s nothing budgeted.”

“That’s the problem, there’s no money budgeted for the clerk’s office,” Jones said.

Taylor asked why that was and Jones replied that it was because the supplement was not budgeted last year, or the previous year under the prior fiscal court administration. According to Taylor, that was due to being asked to “not put any in there.”

According to Jones, Taylor’s proposal would have needed to be included in the court’s budget, which was submitted to the Kentucky Department of Local Government.

 “We can’t return $325,000 that’s not been budgeted,” Jones said. “And if we take $325,000 out of our budget it creates even more problems.”

Taylor said the court will be required to do a new budget in June or July so she asked if the court could supplement the money on the “front-side” of that budget.

“Yeah, but that is six months from now and we don’t know where we’re going to be,” Jones said. “Rhonda, we’re not prepared to put a supplement to the clerk’s office.”

Taylor quipped that the money “is not a supplement” and that the court would just be letting her office keep the money that “we actually take in.” According to Jones, that money, by statute, comes back to the court and is already budgeted for other areas. Taylor then asked what that money is budgeted for.

“We have 220 employees, we have a jail with 60-some employees, we have a public works department that takes care of more than 100 properties and we have a Solid Waste Department that serves over 20,000 customers,” Jones said. “If we do this, that means that we either take it out of the fire departments, the senior citizen centers or another department.”

Taylor said she’s not asking for the money “right now” and instead is asking for it for next year, something to which Jones reiterated the court is not in position to do.

According to Taylor, she doesn’t have the ability to raise fees or taxes, so whenever her office gets into a “hard spot,” she has to come before the court to ask for their help.”

“This 25/75 split is meant to help us when we need help. Now we’ve not received anything in the clerk’s office in almost five years. Based on hearsay and you’re talking about the court offering the last time, nobody has offered me a penny and I’ve never turned down one penny of any money that has been offered. Not one red cent have I turned down,” Taylor said.

Jones said it’s his recollection that the court offered Taylor a supplement, which Taylor denied ever happening and proceeded to ask Jones where he heard that from, to which he replied that he had seen it on television.

“Well I saw it on the television and I think the newspaper reported it,” Jones said.

Taylor said that “a lot of thing get reported in the newspaper that aren’t true.”

Jones said he didn’t want to digress into an argument, something with which Taylor agreed.

“I don’t want to argue with you, sir, and I understand where you’re come from, but you know, for 30 years, even when money was flowing through here like the honey river, the clerk’s office, along with the sheriff’s department, received funding. Because it’s simply not set up to run without it.”

However, during a heated exchange with then-fiscal court members in 2015, she said that her office would be “alright” without the funding.

During a discussion over the state of the budget, then-Dist. 6 Magistrate Bobby Varney brought up comments he had heard attributed to Taylor that she didn’t, “need the fiscal court.”

“You give me a supplement, but if you cut if off, which I heard you probably will, that will be alright, too,” Taylor told Varney. “I’ll have to make do with what I’ve got.”

In January 2016, the court announced it was cutting the supplement after Taylor submitted a budget that included the $110,000 supplement.

“You said you didn’t need it, that you could operate without our money,” Varney told Taylor during that subsequent meeting. “So, I didn’t hesitate to cut that supplement.”

Taylor responded that, while she could operate the clerk’s office without the additional $110,000, it would cause the office to operate at a loss.

In January of this year, Taylor informed the new administration she cannot function without the supplement.

“The clerk’s office cannot function without supplement, it just can’t,” she said. “The only way it can is to have another layoff, close offices out in the county, period. I mean, we’re just going to have the main county seat office. I’m already doing pay cuts in this budget I’ve submitted to you and I’m doing a few layoffs also, but it’s going to take more than what I’ve actually submitted to keep us afloat. Our office is pretty much crippled right now without supplement money.”

In January of last year, during a special meeting, Taylor presented her budget to the court and informed members that, in November, the clerk’s office lost $30,000.

Taylor said that, at different times of year, the office brings in more money due to various factors, but that November’s revenue drop is unprecedented.

“Certain times of the year, we do certain things in our office and that generates more revenue, but this particular year has been a really bad year,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of money in our office due to the economy. It’s just plain and simple — it’s the economy.”

Jones said that although the court is not in position to honor Taylor’s request for $325,000, it has offered to help her office explore avenues to save money. One example, Jones gave was a recent meeting, which the court had set up with a representative from Assured Partners, regarding obtaining a health insurance quote for her office employees. The court, he said,  has been working with Taylor and her office to look into possibly switching health insurance providers in order to save Taylor’s office money.

According to Taylor, she did in fact meet with the agent, but she said she must have been under some “misunderstanding,” because it was Taylor’s impression that the agent was with the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo).

According to PCFC Personnel Director Justin Maynard, who has been working with Taylor regarding finding a new health insurance, Taylor has requested to see a quote through KACo. Jones asked about the recent meeting with Assured Partners, to which Maynard said he didn’t believe Taylor had “any interest” in dealing with them. And according to Jones, the clerk’s office is currently spending more than $220,000 on health insurance for 17 employees.

Taylor said “it wasn’t true” that she didn’t want to meet with the representative and again said that she was under the impression that she was meeting with a “KACo agent.”

“It doesn’t matter who they are if you can get cheaper insurance,” Jones said.

Taylor said if the court would just be “kind enough” to let her employees on the court’s insurance then her office could save $80,000. However, according to Jones, that would result in a 5 percent increase to the court’s premium, which he said would cost the court more than $1.7 million a year.

“So if we raise our premium, it’s not saving the county taxpayers a penny,” Jones said.

The court elected to stand at recess in order to examine the clerk’s proposed budget. Once the meeting resumed Jones pointed out that he wasn’t sure if the budget is accurately done, due to some of the numbers being estimated instead of actual numbers. Pike County Treasurer Frankie Stacy even questioned how some of the numbers relating to prior year’s receipts were formulated.

Taylor said she has always done the proposed budget this way because “that’s what we had.”

“To me, if you want the honest truth, this budget form makes absolutely no sense,” Taylor said.

During a meeting which took place last year, Taylor informed the court her office has operated on overstated numbers under direction from past administrations and even said that “these budgets are way overpadded.”

“To me, if you want the honest truth, this budget form makes absolutely no sense,” Taylor said.

Taylor said she has always done the proposed budget this way because “that’s what we had.”

“If the 2020 numbers precipitously drop like it did from 2018 ($1,696,567) to 2019 ($1,135,860.78), where you had a $561,000 revenue difference from year-to-year, then we’ve got bigger problems,” Jones said.

Taylor said those numbers were only projections, as according to her, the bookkeeper for the clerk’s office doesn’t have “the books settled up,” because the clerk’s office is a month behind.

“We they can’t be projections,” Jones said. “You ought to know what 2018’s receipts were.”

According to Taylor, she has spoken to someone in Frankfort and she was informed that she did not have to submit her proposed budget by Jan. 15 and that “they would wait a few weeks” so that she could work with the fiscal court to “modify” the budget.

Taylor agreed to meet with Stacy and the court voted to revisit the discussion during next week’s regular scheduled meeting at 10 a.m on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

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