Annexation, funding for essential county services top KACo’s legislative priorities
Following a summer tour of more than a dozen listening sessions with county officials across the state, KACo presented its priorities for the 2024 legislative session. This week Executive Director/CEO Jim Henderson, KACo President-elect/Scott County Magistrate David Livingston and KACo 1st Vice President/Harlan County Judge/Executive Dan Mosley spoke before the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government.
“Counties serve in ways most of the public may never even realize,” Livingston said, highlighting examples such as infrastructure, public safety, elections and maintaining important records. “As county officials continue to discuss with [state legislators] our important inter-related issues, it has become our focus at KACo to continue telling the county story, helping people better understand what counties do.”
Livingston told lawmakers that KACo continues to build on a discussion started in the 2023 legislative session regarding Kentucky’s decades-old annexation laws. The General Assembly created a special task force on annexation to identify how some counties are adversely affected by expanded city boundaries due to lost revenue. Officials from KACo and the Kentucky League of Cities have met during the interim session to identify possible solutions.
“We are committed to crafting a solution that is mutually beneficial to county and city governments,” Livingston said.
Another issue that is also the focus a legislative task force, county jails, remains a high priority for KACo. Excluding Jefferson and Fayette counties, jail expenditures account for $330 million of county budgets annually. Judge Mosley thanked legislators for the increased reimbursement to counties housing state inmates and stressed the importance of continued efforts to address issues with the criminal justice system as a whole that drive up jail costs.
“Last fiscal year [Harlan County] had to transfer nearly $800,000 from our general fund to cover jail operations. That figure doesn’t include our $350,000 a year bond payment on the facility that was built more than 15 years ago,” Mosley said. “Losing more than $1 million a year is painful to a county budget, and although it hurts, it is much worse in many other counties than it is mine.”
Because many jail inmates are affected by substance use disorder, Mosley is hopeful that counties can put money from the national opioid settlement to good use. He explained that Harlan County recently hired a Casey’s Law advocate using settlement funds. The position will help families identify recovery resources.
“I firmly believe this type of investment will result in more folks getting the help they need, restoring hope in their lives, a pathway to succeed moving forward, which inevitably will make the person a contributing member to society rather than a burden to taxpayers,” Mosley said.
Other priorities discussed during KACo’s presentation included transportation funding for county-maintained roads and bridges, funding for the newly-created Government Resources Accelerating Needed Transformation (GRANT) Program, which provides a local match for counties seeking federal grants, and a constitutional amendment to allow counties to implement a local sales tax.
The General Assembly will convene its 2024 Regular Session on January 2.