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The much-touted economic recovery from the Great Recession still is tricking down to Kentucky, but here in Hardin County, fiscally conservative Judge-Executive Harry Berry has presented another “structurally balanced” budget for the new fiscal year which begins July 1.
The $29 million spending plan continues county services at current levels and leaves tax rates unchanged. The plan is, Berry says, the second lowest in 20 years.
Overall, it is little changed from this year’s spending plan. It requires neither tapping county reserves nor adding debt.
Berry reports the county has about $12 million in reserves, $15.6 million in total debt and an annual debt burden of $2.5 million.
The plan includes $161,000 more in spending and uses $325,000 from Hardin Memorial Hospital’s dividend, but leaves hospital reserves intact. It also uses some modest grants.
Notable points include a lack of cost-of-living increases and no money for health insurance for employees’ family members.
The plan leaves employee health care premiums at current levels, thanks to a return to a partially self-insured plan. Without the change, premiums would have increased 6 percent. Employees who are eligible for step-in-grade raises will receive them, but there are no across-the-board hikes or cost-of-living increases, something with which many private sectors workers and Social Security recipients can identify.
In addition to rising fuel costs (which also raise the cost of asphalt), areas to watch continue to be the detention center and Pearl Hollow Landfill.
Ideally, the state would take over jail funding across the board — or at least from Day 1 for state prisoners. While a state commission was appointed to explore jail funding issues, it’s not something that’s likely to appear on an agenda any time soon.
Berry anticipates a slight increase in tonnage received at Pearl Hollow, and given high fuel costs that seems a bit iffy.
Perhaps the smallest part of the budget — but the topic of 90 percent of the debate — relates to $16,000 for social service agencies. It’s an expenditure that will not appear again in a Berry budget, he says. The amount, spread over a number of organizations, amounts to 40 cents a household.
“It’s not much money, but it’s a principle,” Berry said.
As for the county animal shelter, the “county is standing by, ready to receive,” he said.
Meanwhile, across the commonwealth, other counties continue to curtail services and reduce payrolls. Announced in the last two weeks:
So while many counties and the state itself continue to struggle with making hard decisions to balance budgets, Hardin Countians have a good story to tell and appreciate.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.