Tuesday night I listened as Jailer Joey White had yet another conversation with members of the fiscal court about his staff scheduling and the cost of operating the jail.
When White voiced a concern about liability issues because of jail overcrowding, Sheriff Josh Brockman joined the conversation. Brockman reminded the court that everyone in emergency services also has to deal with liability. He doesn’t think it is safe to police the entire county with one officer on duty, but that is what he has to do, he noted.
Brockman made the comment that after the debate he just saw that he would be afraid to ask the court for more money for anything. He would just continue to work 80- and 90-hour weeks.
Brockman was not exaggerating. Aside from providing law enforcement, representatives from the sheriff’s office are traveling 10,000 miles a month transporting inmates.
There is usually only one sheriff’s deputy on the job at any given time. That causes a number of concerns. First, there are 412 square miles in the county, so the odds are good that when you need an officer on the northern side of the county that he might just be working another call on the south side.
Brockman said just a couple of nights ago a deputy was five calls behind, meaning 911 needed him to be in five places at one time.
The second area of concern comes from the fact that one officer is walking into numerous scenarios on his own. That’s dangerous. Yes, they can call Kentucky State Police but KSP is also shorthanded these days. On the recent night when a deputy was five calls behind, there was one KSP officer working four counties.
Brockman told the court that he understood the county would not have funding for adequate staffing without a new revenue source. He is doing everything he can to make do with what he has available, just as White is at the jail.
I really don’t know how jail staff should be scheduled to provide the highest level of efficiency. Jailer White said he could save the county $38,000 in the next six months if magistrates would let him schedule his staff the way he wants to schedule them. Magistrates say he is scheduling overtime. Frankly, I really don’t want to spend the hours necessary to break it down and figure it out for myself. They are intelligent people; they should be able to figure it out.
I do, however, know that our county government has worked hard to keep expenses in check and to keep tax rates from increasing. I would say we are one of few counties in the commonwealth that doesn’t have either an insurance tax or occupational tax.
On the flip side of that, we have a city government with both an insurance tax and occupational tax. They just took steps to annex in close to $6 million in commercial property. While they gave property owners a five-year exemption on property taxes, when they do begin collecting that tax it will mean around $13,500 in revenue for the city. Those property owners will also continue to pay property taxes to the county and the county’s eight taxing districts.
That’s just the property tax, however. The city will also receive an insurance tax and occupational tax revenue from the property being annexed, not to mention the additional alcohol tax revenue from a restaurant and convenience store that was previously going to the county.
The city is flush with cash, frankly. Of course, similar to the county’s situation now, the city was in a tight spot five years ago before implementing a 1 percent occupational tax. They took the political hit and put the tax in motion.
The county government could do the same, but magistrates and the judge executive know that most people employed in Adair County are already paying the 1 percent to the city. Do they really want to burden our workforce with another 1 percent on top of that?
There are jobs outside the city limits, but the city is the hub of commercial activity. Even the Green River Commerce Park, nearly four miles from the town square, is considered part of the city limits.
It all goes back to that invisible boundary we have placed around our city limits, a boundary Mayor Pam Hoots is determined to expand. We have one government entity with more than enough that provides streetlights, sidewalks, gas and garbage, and we have another that barely survives that provides jail, 911, and an animal shelter. They both provide law enforcement, road maintenance and some level of parks.
Please understand, our county government can only operate the way it is operating for a limited time. There will be a new tax come along sooner or later.
I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a more efficient way to provide services to 8,000 homes over 412 square miles.
The conversation at Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting reminded me of a marriage when money is tight. I could just imagine the wife getting mad at the husband for spending money on a tool or a gun and the husband wondering why the wife thinks she needs new clothes. Money issues is one of the leading causes of divorce.
Wise couples sit down and make sure they are on the same page with their finances. That’s what we need to do too, not as a city, not as a county, as citizens of a community who share the responsibility of making sure that inmates are treated humanly and law enforcement officers are provided the tools they need to offer police protection.
By Sharon Burton