Fiscal Court May 25

A screenshot from the Fiscal Court's Tuesday meeting.

To cap a long and contentious meeting on the county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, what Magistrate Michael Mueller called “probably the toughest thing” on the agenda came before the court: a request for an extra $200,000 to fund the Franklin County Humane Society’s new animal shelter.

By a 5-2 margin, the court opted to not commit more funds beyond the $800,000 it had already promised for the project.

The humane society has been trying to relocate from its Kentucky Avenue location for several years, and has drawn from the city a funding commitment for $1 million and an agreement to lease city land for free on Sower Boulevard.

In 2019, the fiscal court worked on a deal to sublease land to the Humane Society that it had set near Capitol View Park, but later voted to terminate that agreement at the society’s request because the site did not meet its specifications.

Mueller and Magistrates Lambert Moore, Sherry Sebastian, Scotty Tracy and J.W. Blackburn all voted against raising the commitment from $800,000.

Sebastian said that she felt like the court could do more to spend its money fixing its own issues — such as the need for a new road department facility — as opposed to spending more on the animal shelter.

“This court has done quite a bit to support organizations within the community and is always looking outward,” Sebastian said. “One of the things I would like to do is to start focusing internally ... . This $200,000 will go quite a long way toward working on our road department facility. I think we made an honest goodwill gesture, and I would like to remain with the honest goodwill gesture that the court made previously.”

Magistrate Marti Booth said that she was in favor of upping the court’s commitment to $1 million, considering that it’s the amount FCHS had asked for initially.

“They’re trying to get what they proposed the first time, and I support them wholeheartedly in that,” Booth said. “I think that most of the county does. I don't know if any of the others have gotten calls, but I have.”

Wells said he support giving the humane society $100,000 up front, then potentially another $100,000 if economic conditions permit.

Still, the economic argument against committing the extra funds won the day with five magistrates.

“The majority of the members of this court are wanting to keep it the same, and that's just the way it goes,” Wells said. “We wish you the best in fundraising and, for God's sake, we hope that there's no more flooding and that we can get this built as soon as possible. We look forward to getting you that $800,000 when you need it.”

Original projections for the new animal shelter planned for the city-owned Carpenter Farm off the East-West Connector were $4 million, but due to increased construction materials and labor costs the humane society projects the new animal shelter will cost $5 million, according to President Sam Marcus.

FCHS is still accepting donations at or by check to the Franklin County Humane Society, 1041 Kentucky Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601. Be sure to specify the new animal shelter on the memo line so it will be deposited into the right account.

Other organizations

As it did for the humane society, the court opted to not alter the amounts given to most organizations that requested funds.

Of note, two economic organizations — Downtown Frankfort Inc. (DFI) and Kentucky Capital Development Corporation (KCDC) — were shot down. Both organizations’ requests for $15,000 more in funding were denied 4-3. The county's contribution toward DFI is set to remain at zero.

Sebastian, Mueller, Tracy and Blackburn all voted against the requests. Wells moved to spend $8,000 on DFI, but was outvoted by the majority. 

The same four expressed support to further cut KCDC’s budget from $100,000 to $85,000. 

Mueller made the first mention of cutting its funding, which was reduced last fiscal year from $115,000. Mueller questioned whether KCDC was doing an adequate sales job for Franklin County.

“It’d be like if I had a salesperson working here that wasn’t really selling anything,” Mueller said.

Tracy, Blackburn and Sebastian largely concurred.

“I can honestly say that yes, I'm not happy,” Tracy said. “I don't think Franklin County's going in a direction.”

Rest of the budget

A majority group of four magistrates who often echoed one another’s points — Mueller, Sherry Sebastian, J.W. Blackburn and Scotty Tracy — were in the driver’s seat for most of the budget discussion.

Opting to go over the revenue projections for the next fiscal year first, they questioned Treasurer Susan Laurenson’s estimates. 

With a month left in the current fiscal year, the county has already exceeded its previous revenue projections by more than $3.3 million, a figure that includes receipt of American Rescue Plan Act funding from the federal government. Laurenson said that this trend informed her estimates for the next fiscal year’s revenue.

The general fund, in particular, is up. Real property taxes and payroll taxes have been collected well beyond their projected amounts already, at $5.78 million and $4.46 million, respectively. The year-to-date revenue collections are $38.9 million.

Sebastian and Mueller argued that projected deficits in funds aside from the general fund — mid-sized funds like the road, jail, sheriff and fire protection funds — are present.

“Business-wise, I’m just wanting to make sure that this is conservative,” Mueller said. “If we have more that comes in, that’s great. We did better. I’m just concerned by a handful of these line items that look a little proud.”

Sebastian wondered whether the county might be better suited to be as conservative as possible in its revenue projection and amend the budget if and when more money comes in.

“I’m just trying to err on the side of making sure that we’ve got enough revenues,” Sebastian said.

A brief exchange between Sebastian and Wells led to Wells' saying he believed the magistrates’ questions to Laurenson sounded critical of her work. Sebastian said that it was not her intent and that it was “unfortunate” he took it that way.

Regarding expenses, Mueller expressed a desire to not add any employees and any salary increase aside from a cost-of-living adjustment. He and others also questioned vehicle spending.

After receiving pushback from Wells and some county staff, Mueller agreed on only cutting administrative, parks department, planning and zoning and one fire protection vehicle. 

At Moore’s request, the court generally agreed to only add three new positions — all part-time. Planning & Zoning would add two part-time positions and fire protection would add a part-time mechanic.

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