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Extension service levies tax

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Service claims legal authority to levy tax without fiscal court approval

By Glen Jennings

Oldham County residents will soon see a new expense on their tax bills to help pay for services by the Oldham County Cooperative Extension Service.

“We have reached the limit of what’s possible without cutting existing services. This would mean limited access for Oldham County’s youth, families, homeowners and farmers,” said board chair Ken Heppermann. “With additional funding, extension can maintain personnel and facilities necessary to meet these and other community needs.”

Members of the extension board explained they had made the decision to levy the tax, which totals 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, because of the increasing popularity of their services. 

According to the board, the extension is now running so many programs that it does not have the financial resources to support itself with funds provided by fiscal court alone.

Although members of fiscal court did not endorse the tax increase and some seemed outright opposed to it, Judge-Executive David Voegele said the court’s hands were tied.

“I want to make this very clear: the fiscal court has no authority to approve or disapprove this action,” Voegele said. “We loathe to put additional tax responsibility on the people in this community. This group, the extension district council and board is willing to take that mantle and responsibility to itself.”

Voegele also pointed out that he values the extension district’s work, despite his concerns about a tax increase. 

“The extension district provides very valuable services,” Voegele said. “It works with hundreds of families, hundreds of kids, in a wide variety of very positive services in this community.”

Heppermann said the tax would completely replace the revenue provided by fiscal court and allow the extension to build a new facility, a change he said is sorely needed.

County attorney John Carter, however, called the tax’s legality into question. Carter provided the Era with a packet of notes detailing his opinion and the laws and prior decisions that support it.

“KRS 67.083 vests in fiscal courts the authority to levy taxes to fund extension districts, a clear legislative intent that extension districts are to be funded by fiscal courts through their tax revenues,” Carter wrote in his opinion. “I have determined that there have been no new legislative acts or opinions that would change my perspective on this issue.”

Jon Salomon, the extension district’s legal counsel, cited KRS 164.620 and argued that the law affords extension districts more independence.

“Kentucky statute is clear that extension districts are their own subdivision of the commonwealth,” Salomon said. “Although the extension district is a creation of fiscal court because the general assembly delegated to fiscal court the ability in each county the ability in each county to create an extension district, once that district is created the statute contemplates that it’s its own division of the commonwealth.”

Salomon added that both the Department for Local Government and the county attorney in Bell County concluded that the extension district has the power to levy its own tax of up to 

“The fiscal court doesn’t have to approve it, or endorse it or like it, but in Bell County, at least, they reached the conclusion that the fiscal court had to acknowledge the tax and pass it along,” he said. “If everything works the way it’s supposed to, we’re done. If somebody decides to take some other kind of action, then I think we end up in a court of law, but I don’t think we’re there and I don’t have any reason to think that’s where we’re heading.”

In response to the increase, Voegele announced to the Era the morning of Aug. 7 that he planned to propose a tax reduction to the rate from fiscal court at the next meeting, dropping it from 9 cents per $100 to 8.5.

Oldham County Fiscal Court will meet again on Aug. 15.