Three state legislators were at the Hopkinsville City Council Chambers Monday to listen to city employees explain the pension pitfall the city is facing. Hopkinsville Chief Financial Officer Robert Martin and Mayor Carter Hendricks spoke to Sen. Whitney Westerfield, Rep. Walker Thomas and Rep. Myron Dossett about how the city needs state legislative action to avoid massive loss in local revenue.
Based on the most current information, the pension cost for the city will rise from around $4 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year to around $7.5 million in the 2028-29 fiscal year. The total pension pay in for the city over those 10 years would be over $66 million.
“That’s a large number if you look at a city this size,” Martin said.
Hendricks created a pension funding committee that began meeting in May 2019. That committee brought forth various options to cut costs to fund the pension if no state legislation alleviated the liability.
As part of the cost-cutting study, each part of the local government brought the committee the cuts that they would need to create in order keep up with the lower funding.
Hopkinsville Fire Department would be forced to close Fire Station 3 on Canton Pike. It would also have to reduce the medical response in every fire crew.
It would also need to dissolve its fire prevention and inspection division, leading the Kentucky State Fire Marshall’s Office to be responsible for all annual fire inspections.
The cost cutting would also lead Hopkinsville Public Works to deplete its entire building maintenance funds. It would have to terminate three employees in the city maintenance department, one employee in the service center and one employee in parks and recreation.
The Planters Bank-Jennie Stuart Sportsplex would need to reduce its building and maintenance funds, advertising and marketing budget and reduce program expenses, which generate income.
One of the largest hits would come to the Hopkinsville Police Department. The police department would cease to give funeral escorts, unlock cars for residents — unless a child or animal was in danger — cease to work wrecks in parking lots, fingerprinting on post and social media posting, among numerous other services.
Two ways to bring in extra revenue would be to enact an alcohol and restaurant tax. Currently, under Kentucky Revised Statutes, Christian County is too large to enact those taxes. Trigg County currently has a restaurant tax.
“If we had the restaurant tax and the liquor tax, that would certainly help us,” Martin said.
Thomas said he and Westerfield have been speaking with Sen. Danny Carroll, who a few years ago bumped up the alcohol tax up to fourth and fifth rate cities. That bump did not bring it up enough to include Hopkinsville or Christian County.
“That just missed us,” Thomas said. “I was trying to lobby to get us included in that, and he said it would kill the bill at that time.
“Now, that was a couple years ago. Maybe there’s a renewed interest to try to push that.”
He added that bringing up the alcohol tax would be a logical choice. That tax money is delegated to police funds, which would alleviate a significant financial burden on the city.
Westerfield told the audience that the information the city gave to the legislators was helpful to give them a perspective going into the current legislative session. He said although he can’t completely send a new revenue bill currently due to the legislative process, he can amend the House revenue bill.
“So I’ve got the bill request just put in for that so that the drafter can prepare the language for the amendment to the revenue bill,” he said. “So that if it’s not in the House bill, when it gets to the Senate I can add it.”
Thomas added that in the meantime he will work to find out what the opposition was to bringing the alcohol tax up to higher rate cities when Carroll worked to pass it in the past.
Hendricks told the crowd the best way to make their voice heard is to call their local legislators.
“The commonwealth can’t be strong unless its local governments are strong,” he said. “This is where its economic vitality occurs.”
To speak to state legislators about the pension problem, including the alcohol and restaurant taxes, call 1-800-372-7181.