The Owen County Fiscal Court on June 23, 2020, unanimously adopted the budget ordinance for the fiscal year 2020-2021.
The adopted budget totals $8.9 million across all funds, marking a $3.1 million decrease from last year’s $12.2 million budget.
The decrease, in part, stems from a significant loss of state funding (approximately $800,000) to the county road fund due to an unexpected change in projected motor fuel tax revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, which halted payments from the state of Kentucky to local governments for the foreseeable future.
Despite the loss, Owen County Judge-Executive Casey Ellis expects operations to continue as usual.
“Luckily, we’ve built a surplus over the past five years and will be able to continue our operations for this year with the anticipation of receiving the money that’s allocated to us,” Ellis said.
In previous years, the anticipation of grant funding has inflated the budget. The elimination of grants not realized during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, as well as the unavailability of some grants, also contributed to the decrease.
Realized revenues and appropriations are expected to remain near 2019-2020 levels.
The most significant increase in expenditures comes in the form of a 9.4 percent increase in employee health insurance costs. The yearly increase typically averages around 4 percent.
As a member of the Kentucky Association of Counties’ insurance pool, a specific reason for the increase was never given, although Ellis said he suspects COVID-19 may have played a part.
“Just like everything else, there’s uncertainty in the healthcare industry, too,” Ellis said.
While many government entities across the commonwealth deal with the financial impact of COVID-19, Ellis said Owen County’s budget might not immediately realize the weight of the global pandemic.
“Unlike the City of Owenton and other communities around us, we don’t have a payroll tax,” Ellis said. “So, in theory, because we don’t have any consumer-based revenues, we shouldn't be affected. With that being said, (the pandemic) affects everyone. People still have to pay for their insurance, their property taxes — so until we see what the overall collective nature is going to be with folks, it’s kind of hard to move forward.”
Ellis also noted an increase (approximately $200,000) in EMS personnel costs due to the approval of a new, experience-based pay structure for employees earlier this year.
As communities across the U.S. continue to cope with the shortage of paramedics and EMTs, competitive salaries help to ensure citizens receive the quality of care they deserve.
“With the lack of qualified and trained EMTs and paramedics across the state, everybody jockeys for the same employee base, which drives our wages up, and rightfully so,” Ellis said.
“We have to have competitive salaries to fill the positions, and we have to remain competitive with the larger cities in Northern Kentucky and other surrounding areas.”
To date, Owen County is eligible for $371,138 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
“We’re working with the Department of Local Government to see how (the CARES Act Funding) can be spent,” Ellis said. “That has a big bearing on our budget as well. The final determination also depends on how the budget flows for the next 12 months."