RICHMOND — The Madison County Fiscal Court voted in favor of a tax increase to fund a new detention center during a special-called meeting Tuesday at the Madison County Courthouse.
Madison County Judge Executive Reagan Taylor, along with Magistrates Tom Botkin, John Tudor and Roger Barger voted in favor of raising the rate 11.4 cents per $100 assessed from 8.2 cents to 19.6, an increase of nearly 140 percent. Magistrate Larry Combs voted against the increase.
“I pride myself in doing what’s right for the people — my mom and dad raised me that way,” Taylor said. “If anybody in this room thinks that I’m up here for self-interest, you’ve got another think coming and that’s the first thing you have done in your mind is perceive me the wrong way … I’m always making decisions that better the county government, the city governments, and to better the tax payers in this community.
“It’s unfortunate, totally unfortunate, that it takes a tax increase to bring awareness to a serious problem that’s been going on in this community well before we all sat here together (on this court). It’s also unfortunate that citizens of this county don’t know any more about the local government and how it works than they do …
“We’ve got a double-edged sword getting thrown at us. We’re trying to figure out which side is the dullest to get hit with, because it does not matter what we (decided) here today, it’s wrong for us. I wish it would bring some awareness to you guys that we’ve done what we’ve done and there is a true need. This process that we’re going about it is the democratic process that has been set forth by KRS.”
Tudor, who abstained from voting during the first reading of the ordinance, read a prepared statement before the roll call vote and said the condition of the current facility has “gone from bad to worse” and the court has no other options to consider.
“It’s past time to act,” he said. “… I will be the first to say that I hate taxes — I don’t like spending my money and I especially don’t like spending your money, because it is my money as well. This can has been kicked down the road long enough. Now, we don’t have a can. We have a huge barrel nobody wants to do anything about.”
“I’ll be the first magistrate to admit we need some help at the jail,” Combs said. “I have never voted for a tax increase … I could have voted for a small one this year, but I can’t vote for this one, because it’s too high (and) it’s going to put some people in tough shape. If my mom and daddy were alive today — they couldn’t pay it. The kids would have to pitch in and pay it and with some of you all, the kids would have to pitch in and pay it and I don’t like that. We all try to stand on our own, but sometimes we fall short. Don’t get me wrong, I want to do more for the jail — I’m not going to do this, just to say we done something.”
Like Combs, Botkin said he didn’t like the tax increase, but had no choice but to vote in favor of the ordinance.
“I don’t like it … I said a year ago, we couldn’t build enough jails to put everybody in it that needs to go to jail (and) I said it repeatedly,” he said. “Here we are today, basically having to build a jail … Ultimately, state law says if a prisoner is arrested in Madison County, they go to the Madison County Detention Center. It also says, that the Fiscal Court supports the jailer and the detention center. For that reason, I’m supporting the tax increase.”
“Folks, we can’t do 99 percent of the ideas that you had, because the law won’t let us it’s out of our hands,” he said. “It’s a state control issue … we are made to house people in the jail and they decide when they go to jail or whatever, it’s not left up to us … it’s out of our control … we’re just trying to abide by what they’re making us do. This threat, I’ll never vote for you again, I’m going to do my job. I told them that when we were trying to do the insurance tax. I’m going to do my job. It started on a small scale and it’s gotten bigger and all of the sudden it has really gotten bigger in the last few months — just blown up. We’ve got to do something. We need a jail and I’m for the jail.”
Prior to the vote, 28 citizens voiced their opinion on the increase, many of which cited the need for a new jail, but not with a $45 million price tag attached to the project.
Tom Jones, a 19-year employee of the county, said a detention center is needed for him to do his job properly and added he has been assaulted in the current facility 36 times.
“What I do need is the tools to do my job,” he said. “The only tool I have is the facility itself … the building itself is what we use to manage people. That is my tool and I need it to function. Old tools are handed down that don’t function for now.”
Former magistrate Billy Ray Hughes urged the court to “go back to the drawing board” and others who spoke agreed.
“This isn’t a simple problem,” citizen Cara Howell said. “It’s a multi-faceted problem that is going to take comprehensive solutions. It’s not just building a 45 million dollar brick and mortar jail. We need to be thinking about judicial reform. We need to go back to that table. We need this to be an innovative out of the box idea on how to solve this very large issue … there is something that has to change on the criminal justice side and not on the brick and mortar side.”
Following the vote, magistrates approved a tax rate sunset on the increase once the final bond payment is made on the project.
Several concerned citizens have already planned to file a petition for a recall and have 45 days to get the required number of signatures needed for a recall vote. If enough signatures are obtained, the measure will be placed on the November, 2020 ballot and left up to the voters to decide the final verdict on the increase.
One of the organizers of a petition drive, Mary Renfro, voiced her concerns prior to the vote by the court and urged the magistrates to reconsider.
“Say no to taxes,” she said.
Taylor expects a petition to be filed, but urged the community to delve deeper into the issue at hand.
“I would encourage you, whether you are for it or against it, to 100 percent know the facts before you start speculating about what we do on a daily basis and what you elected us to do,” Taylor said.
In other business
The Court heard first reading of a proposed zone change at 5120 Battlefield Memorial Highway from RC7 (Agriculture) to RC4 (General Commercial) during a short regular-scheduled meeting Tuesday in Berea.
Magistrates also approved adopting two streets — Lacey Mae Way and Emma Mae Way — into the county maintenance plan.
A memorandum of understanding between the court and the Battlefield Estates Property Owners Association also was adopted. The back gate will be maintained by the neighborhood group.