Jessamine Fiscal Court approves new tax to support county extension service

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJuly 15, 2014 

NICHOLASVILLE — Jessamine County Fiscal Court voted 4-1 Tuesday to levy a tax to fund the county cooperative extension service.

A similar proposal to start an extension service tax failed 11 years ago when fiscal court voted against it on a 4-2 vote.

This time, the requested rate is 1.7 cents per $100 of real property, and 3 cents per $100 of personal property. Those rates would generate $641,820 in tax revenue, said Carl Waits, a tobacco and beef farmer who is chairman of the Jessamine extension district board.

Magistrates George Dean, Burch Hager, Gary Morgan and Bobby Day Wilson voted for the tax, while Tim Vaughan voted no. Magistrate Terry Meckstroth was absent. Although he typically only votes to break a tie, Judge-Executive William Neal Cassity also voted for the tax.

"I think it's time for the extension service to have its own funds," Wilson said before the vote.

The extension service provides a range of services. It develops youth leadership through 4-H programs; educates farmers about new methods and technologies; gives advice to home gardeners; and enriches the lives of homemakers.

Kathy Walker, Jessamine's 4-H Council president, said the tax should be seen "as an investment in our youth and in our agriculture program." Jessamine's 4-H program involves 2,400 students, Walker said.

The only person to speak against the tax was conservative activist David Adams.

"Fiscal court has more than enough money to do the things that we need for you to do," Adams told the magistrates. "If you don't, prioritize our spending, take something off the bottom of the list, and replace it with the extension service."

Approving an ordinance requires two readings. If approved by a final vote on Aug. 5, the new tax will appear on this fall's tax bills.

Jessamine property owners also pay property taxes for county government, schools, the library, health department and fire protection. (Some residents in northern Jessamine County pay a sub-district tax for fire protection in addition to the general fire-protection tax.)

In February 1978, fiscal court established the Jessamine extension service as a taxing district but a tax was never levied. Instead, fiscal court funds the extension service through annual budget allocations.

But as the county's surplus has decreased from $7 million in 2008 to $4 million now, magistrates are under increasing pressure to find dollars to fund services.

Fiscal court's 2014-15 general fund budget is $13.2 million. Its budget allotment to the extension service for this fiscal year is nearly $300,000, according to records in the county clerk's office.

That includes dollars for staff, assistants, janitorial services, insurance, building repair and maintenance, telephone and utilities.

The extension service pays $1 annual rent on the building it occupies at City-County Park in Nicholasville. However, if fiscal court grants final approval to the tax, the extension service proposes to pay the county $145,000 in annual rent.

That rent and the extension tax would put $450,000 in the county budget that fiscal court could spend toward other items.

State law authorizes a fiscal court to levy taxes in support of cooperative extension service programs. But on May 20, 2003, a proposal to levy an extension tax was defeated by Jessamine Fiscal Court.

In that vote, magistrates George Dean and John Nickell voted yes, but magistrates Duane McCuddy, Bobby Day Wilson, Terry Meckstroth and Tim Vaughan all voted no.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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