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County starts work on next year's budget

By JOHN PFEIFER jpfeifer@paducahsun.com

Like the CEO of any $30 million entity - public or private - McCracken County Judge-Executive Bob Leeper is orchestrating the next year's budget process in the 70 days remaining in the current fiscal year.

The formal county budget process began on April 10 with a pre-budget revenue workshop that involved Leeper, county commissioners and Deputy Judge-Executive Doug Moore. Four more workshops - all open to the public - are scheduled before the first budget reading. The next one will be held at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Courthouse Conference Room A.

"We try to talk with department heads to get their thoughts as well as their wish lists," Leeper said, so that he and county commissioners have time to review and prioritize requests well before the budget deadline.

Revenues for the current year are running slightly ahead of plan in some categories and behind in others. Reimbursement from the state for housing state prisoners in the county jail represents the largest revenue windfall.

Through March, the county has received 81 percent of the $3 million income it budgeted for housing state prisoners, putting it on track to exceed budget in this category by more than $200,000.

"Our census is way up due to prison overcrowding," Leeper said. He said that on average the county jail is housing 200 state prisoners, including violent offenders, each day.

Revenue reimbursements for housing state prisoners have increased annually from fiscal year 2011-12's total of less than $1.3 million to this year's total in excess of $3 million, an average annual increase of about 16 percent.

The county's single largest revenue item is the occupational tax, a 1 percent tax on gross salaries and net business profit. Budgeted to be $6.05 million for the year, the total collected through March was only $4.38 million. Leeper said it's normal that tax collections on business profits go up after the April tax-filing deadline.

For 2016-17, the county's property tax revenue was budgeted at $3.65 million, and his initial estimate for 2017-18 will keep that number about the same.

The county's cost to conduct an election is about $135,000, and Leeper said some years there are both spring and fall elections. He said that in years in which there is a single election - such as this year and next - the other $135,000 is spent on prioritized improvement projects.

That money was spent on improvements to county parks this year, and he will recommend it be spent that way again next year. The improvements would include a $22,000 pump track for bicyclists. A pump track is a contoured, looping trail system that allows a cyclist to ride continuously by building momentum from using the contours rather than by pedaling.

Leeper said that the track would be built near the soccer complex on County Park Road.

Two of the three single-year projects scheduled for this year are likely to roll over into the next year, Leeper said. A $565,000 courthouse window project was completed this year.

"It came in under budget but was pretty close," he said.

The $4 million Maxon Road Project, funded by a state road grant, will likely carry over to 2017-18. County Road Engineer Randy Williams said reconstruction work on Maxon Road between U.S. 60 and Ky. 305 would begin Monday.

The third single-year capital item, a $600,000 jail lock project, "likely won't get done this fiscal year," Leeper said.

The first reading of the 2017-18 budget is scheduled for the May 22 fiscal court meeting with final approval planned for the June 26 meeting, the last one prior to the start of the new fiscal year.

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