In his carefully worded narrative explaining the 43-page budget document he presented to Hardin Fiscal Court, Judge-Executive Harry Berry chided state legislators on failing to address declining road fund revenue and preventing local leaders from solving some financial issues apart from Frankfort’s top-down management system.
It’s not the first time Berry has pointed at Frankfort as a problem. His annual budget address in recent years has been punctuated with critiques of state government.
Legislators don’t appreciate such public remarks from other elected officials and likely won’t care to see them repeated here. But here goes.
Berry noted that almost $4.2 million has been allocated in the next budget for the Hardin County Road Department – roughly a half-million-dollar increase from the current fiscal year. He explained that’s due largely to a change in the county’s business arrangement at the landfill which turned an ongoing deficit into positive revenue.
At the same time, the dollars available for county road work continue to be $600,000 below figures six years ago “when the General Assembly dramatically reduced the state’s gasoline tax, the road department’s primary funding source,” Berry said.
For the seventh straight year, he said the county will make due with a 40 percent reduction in reoccurring annual asphalt work for the seventh straight year. Deferred maintenance means more shoddy roads and Berry wants residents to know he blames it on “gross underfunding” by the legislature.
“Sadly, the General Assembly once again failed to take actions this year to curtail the rapid decline in the condition of state and county roads,” Berry said.
He believes the issues are systemic and borne from Frankfort’s faith in centralized government.
“Contributing to our budget struggles is the fact that our state continues to be one of the most centrally controlled states in the nation, rather than empowering local governments to solve local issues,” he said.
He blamed state leaders for refusing to address laws which prohibit the county from benefiting from an occupational tax and said state-mandated increases on pension fund contributions “are strangling county government’s finances.”
That’s one man’s opinion. But it’s one man who has crafted 19 county budgets and has a reputation for being a fiscal taskmaster.
Hardin County has benefited from Judge Berry’s budgeting skills, but he’ll likely leave office at the end of 2022 without the satisfaction of seeing state government heed his recommendations.