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COURT UNSURE VOTERS WOULD PASS EMERGENCY SERVICES TAX

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By Bryan Marshall

Judge-Executive Darrell Link admits that the emergency services tax proposed by the Grant County Fire Chiefs’ Association would provide much-needed funding for fire and ambulance services.

But, he doesn’t think voters would approve paying for a new tax during tough economic times.

“It will give them an immediate infusion of revenue that will allow them to quickly catch up, and will also provide them with a better revenue source going forward,” Link said. “However, I just don’t think that voters are in the mood to pay more in taxes right now. My point all along is that when and if the chiefs proposal is put on the ballot – it will fail, and then the fire departments will be another year behind in addressing their current needs.”

That is why Link has urged the fiscal court to pass his proposed ambulance tax ordinance with an initial rate of 1.5 cents per $100 assessed value or $15 on a $100,000 home.

In comparison, the emergency services tax, if set at 6.5 to 7.5 cents per $100 assessed value, would cost taxpayers $65 to $75 on a $100,000 home.

Magistrate Bobby Young believes the 6.5 to 7.5 cents is too high for residents to support.

Everybody understands that we need something,” Young said. “Nobody wants to pay for it. (The fire chiefs) have a great proposal, but I think the dollar amount is just too high. That’s all you hear.”

Under the proposal, a seven-person emergency services taxing district board would be created.

Three members would be appointed by the fiscal court, two would be voted in by the public as landowners within the taxing district and two firefighters in good standing would be selected from the fire departments.

With the ambulance taxing district, the three magistrates would each appoint a member to the board.

“When you form a taxing district or a board or commission, you’re pushing off the responsibility to levy taxes to the board or commission that are not elected by the people,” Magistrate Brian Linder said. “I believe that, as the fiscal court, it is our responsibility to levy taxes and increase them or decrease them. Now, everybody in the whole state does it that way and that’s how it’s legally set up, but I think that it needs to be changed at the state level.”

Feedback has been not favorable toward an emergency services tax, according to the magistrates.

“It’s been overwhelming not to not put a tax on,” Linder said. “One suggestion was that there should be two different rates, one that the City of Dry Ridge charges for (ambulance) runs inside the city and a higher rate for runs they have to make outside the city limits. Most people are saying that now is not the time to raise taxes. I’ve only had one person tell me that we need to put this on and go forward with the taxing district.”

Through an ordinance, the fiscal court could approve the taxing district itself, a solution the magistrates do not seem inclined to do.

The fiscal court could also allow the fire chiefs’ association to craft a petition for 100 registered voters within the taxing district who have voted within the past four general election to sign.

With the approved petition, the taxing district would be placed on the November ballot for the voters to decide its fate.

Otherwise, the association would be required to get the petition signed by 25 percent of the number of registered voters in the taxing district who voted in the last four general elections.

The fiscal court members said they would not have an issue if the fire chiefs’ proposal was put to a vote.

“That way we can find out what people want,” Linder said. “If they put it at 7.5 cents, then we know that is the market value for fire and EMS services that Grant Countians are willing to pay. If they vote it down, then we know they aren’t willing to pay.”

If residents are going to be asked to pay for a new tax, Magistrate Richard Austin said they should be able to vote on it.

“The way things are, I don’t think people are looking for some other taxes even if it is for something that’s important,” Austin said. “I don’t think you can get it passed, and you’re not going to find out if you can get it passed until November to put it on the tax bill. It’s going to take a lot of money to do what they want to do and I don’t know if the people are ready to step up to the plate for that or not.”

While he does not have a problem with allowing a vote of the people on the issue, Link reiterated his opinion that the outcome would not be in the fire chiefs’ favor.

“Kentucky voters are not accustomed to voting on referendums as Ohio voters, and I believe that residents in our county expect their elected leaders to act and vote responsibly on these issues and not delegate it to an appointed board or commission,” he said.