GLASGOW – District 3 Magistrate Carl Dickerson, self-proclaimed “not a tax man,” is proposing that the Barren County Fiscal Court consider implementing an occupational tax for the unincorporated portions of the county, and he also has opened the discussion of whether the county should decrease the number of magistrates from seven to five.
These were two of the four topics discussed at Monday evening's meeting of the Economic Development Committee and Tuesday morning during the full fiscal court meeting.
The other two items were that the Barren County Economic Authority has sent a letter requesting the traditional funding amount of $60,000 from the county, which Dickerson, now a member of the authority as well, recommended the county provide. The full fiscal court approved the payment Tuesday.
“Back in July, when we did our budget, we committed to giving them $120,000, and we didn't put any restrictions on how that money was to be spent [other than for economic development],” he said.
“By sitting on that board, I've been to two meetings, and my eyes have really been opened,” Dickerson said. “We are really behind in this county on our economic development. ... There's come an opportunity where we can work with Hart County to do a feasibility study on using our ag resources, which, we're producers in this county, but we don't have very much secondary manufacturing of our ag resources here. Hart County has committed $5,000. Their extension board has committed $5,000. I'm asking today that the Barren County Fiscal Court commit $5,000, and the extension board is going to meet today, I think, and they're going to be asked to contribute $5,000 for a feasibility study into secondary manufacturing for our ag products here."
He made a motion to that effect, adding he wanted the funds to come from the other $60,000 earmarked for economic development.
District 2 Magistrate Trent Riddle said he would like to see the University of Kentucky Agriculture Department do its own feasibility study in addition to the other one, a suggestion he had also made the evening before, except at that point, it was more of an “instead of” suggestion.
Hale said, “They've been part of these discussions since January, our extension office has, as well as Hart County's extension office, and they will be a part of the study. I guess specifically we can ask them to do their own study, but they will be part of that study. They haven't been left out of any of the conversations.”
Dickerson said that Ryan Quarles, state agriculture commissioner, was onboard with this study idea as well, “so this is just not anything that's been taken lightly.” He said it's also good that they're working with our neighbor to the north.
Dickerson had also said during the committee meeting Monday that two industrial food production facilities in Hart County purchase most of their ingredients from out of state, so part of the idea behind this effort is to see whether local suppliers could meet their demand.
Chris Schalk, Barren County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said when contacted by the Glasgow Daily Times later in the day to check on the referenced board meeting, said it was the Barren County Agriculture Development Board that was set to to hear a proposal about the study at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Likewise, it was the ag development council in Hart County that already approved a $5,000 expenditure, along with Hart County Fiscal Court's pledge and now Barren County Fiscal Court's.
Schalk said the ag boards, or councils, are funded through tobacco settlement monies, not taxpayer dollars.
Dickerson said that now, as a member of the economic authority, he sees the need for more funding for the endeavor.
“Any of y'all who've seen me in court over the past 17 years know, I am not a tax guy,” he said. “We do not have a occupational tax in the county. All the incorporated cities have one. ... We're not going to vote on this today, but somewhere down the road, I can see us having to adopt an occupational tax in Barren County.”
Dickerson said that it's a shame locations have to put up a lot of money to attract businesses and industries, but that's a fact of life.
“That's the way it works now,” he said. “We committed $120,000 this year to economic development, went up from $60,000. ... If we want to attract good jobs to this community, that amount of money's just not going to get it done.”
He asked his fellow magistrates to think about it and discuss it with constituents, and perhaps they could have a “public meeting” on it sometime later. Dickerson suggested the same approach with the reduction of magistrates.
“Bloated government turns away industry,” he said, in noting he'd been asked why this was a topic for the Economic Development Committee. “They want to see efficient government when they come to an area."
At the committee meeting, Dickerson said the redistricting couldn't happen until after the 2020 census figures are released. He had also mentioned he thought perhaps agriculture could be exempt from the tax.
Local resident James Hawks was also at the committee meeting, along with three magistrates besides those who are members and Hale. Hawks bristled at the idea of the exemption.
“I don't have a problem with an occupational tax,” he said, “but if I'm going to be taxed, so is everybody else.”
Riddle, a member of the committee, said he would consider the county commission form of government, but he was less sure about keeping magistrates but reducing the number, but he wouldn't rule it out. He said he needed time to think about it.