As construction on the new county jail comes to a close, the Oldham County Fiscal Court adopted a budget $20 million less than the previous year’s for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The budget, coming in at approximately $38.2 million, is a decline from both the previous year’s $59.2 million budget and the $44.4 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. That decrease is in large part due to the finishing of the county jail, the court’s finance chair Magistrate Wayne Theiss said.
“The bulk of the money from last year was for the jail,” Theiss said. “So you see a decline in capital projects.”
Because jail construction is concluding, the budget saw approximately $17 million less in capital project and debt service funds alone, with debt from bonds on jail construction dropping from $11.2 million to $1 million.
County Accountant Stan Clark said the debt from last year was due to the county taking out bonds for the building of the new jail, which they will continue to pay in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Additionally, administration costs were cut from $5.9 million to approximately $967,000, with the majority of the decline coming from a reserve for transfer. The money was used for construction of the jail.
While the overall budget decreased drastically, there were still increases to small sections of the general fund — one of which being the general government fund for fiscal court maintenance.
Fiscal court maintenance funds increased to $978,000 from $530,000 last year. This increase largely deals with improvements and new construction, which Clark said includes potential projects such as the extension services seeking more space and money for a new stoplight in downtown La Grange designed to match the town’s historic architecture.
Other increases included raises for several employees including the county judge, attorney and sheriff in addition to overall jail and police officer salaries.
Magistrate Steve Greenwell spoke out against the hiring of more staff during the court’s discussion of the budget on June 8, saying the court needed to be more fiscally responsible. Greenwell said additional hires should be based on their merit, and that in previous years less employees were able to do the same amount of work.
“In some cases, I understand we have to expand services and we can’t avoid that,” he said. “I’ve heard it said that we don’t want people to wait in line or have to wait to get something done. Well, people have to wait all the time to get something done or to get a permit or seek services. It isn’t instantaneous, and the fact that we need to hire people because there’s a waiting period, I don’t think is a good reason for a possible $60,000 investment to make the line shorter.”
Greenwell specifically pointed to the Department of Planning and Zoning’s request to hire an additional inspector as an example of unneeded spending.
“Back whenever we had 850 housing starts, we had two people,” he said. “We were able to take care of 850 housing starts, and I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to that right now.”
According to the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, inspection staff salaries for building code enforcements increased approximately $58,000 from last year, going from $126,966 in inspections staff salaries to $168,480.
Planning and Development Director Jim Urban said his department’s request to hire another inspector is not based on wants, but needs.
“We’re seeing a lot of remodels, a lot of swimming pools,” Urban said. “They’re doing anywhere from 12 to 18 inspections per day, covering 184 square miles of the county.”
Urban said he hoped to hire an additional electrical inspector, a job that requires specific credentials. Currently, he said, the county employs just one electrical inspector, which could cause problems in the future.
“If he falls, gets sick, takes a vacation, inspections stop,” he said. “Nobody else is allowed to make electrical inspections.”
In addition, Urban hopes to train one of the inspectors to do commercial inspections, which would allow industrial or commercial properties to be approved much faster than the current method of doing it through the state.
“In doing that, we would provide better customer service, not just for houses and permits but for the economic development we’re trying to encourage,” he said. “Instead of spending 45 days with a plan review in Frankfort, we’d be able to do it in three to four days.”
At the meeting, Magistrate Brent Likins said he commended the work done by inspectors and could see a need for an additional employee.
Theiss said the county is doing more inspections, and thus had to decide to either hire someone in-house or outsource. While he said he does not believe the cost would have been any different and he would have understood outsourcing, Theiss said hiring someone in-house would ensure the job be done well.
At the end of the meeting, the budget passed with only Greenwell opposed. The full budget is available online at oldhamcounty.net.