The 2022 legislative priorities of county governments were presented to members of the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Local Government Committee, during a Monday meeting.
Representatives of the Kentucky Association of Counties, or KACo, which represent all elected county officials, said their main concerns involved funding for jails, transportation infrastructure, criminal justice, and local options for raising taxes for revenue flexibility.
KACO’s Director of Government Affairs, Shellie Hampton, said Kentucky’s jail population is being driven by addiction and mental health issues. “The crisis across Kentucky affects every county, whether they operate their own jail or have closed them and contract with neighboring counties. They are still responsible for those inmates.”
She said Kentucky’s inmate population has far outpaced the state’s overall population growth. “Between 2011 and 2019, Kentucky’s population grew by 2%. Our incarcerated population in the same time period grew by 31%.”
Hampton said KACo seeks an increase in the per diem the state pays local jails to house inmates, since 2008 was the last change.
On the transportation topic, she told the committee over 40% of county roads need moderate to significant repair, and that a quarter of their members said the figure is over 60%. “Many fiscal courts have had to extend the time of their road and bridge maintenance schedule due to increased costs and decreased funds.”
They seek an increase in the state’s gas tax, as well as legislation that would have owners of electric vehicles pay a fee for their fair share of road maintenance costs, since they don’t use the motor fuels which are taxed. Hampton noted 40 other states have enacted a fee for electric vehicles.
KACo also wants funding so courts and jails can expand use of video arraignments and other pre-trial hearings.
KACo Executive Director Jim Henderson said he was in full agreement with Kentucky League of Cities officials, who told the panel last month local governments need more flexibility in the ways they can raise revenues for their operations.
“If we really want to have a conversation on tax reform, about different ways to raise revenue on the local level for counties to be able to do something different than we currently do, it simply requires a change in our Constitution,” he stated. “We’re just hamstrung. We can’t do them, even if we want.”
Henderson noted Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, has sponsored that legislation in the past, but it has not cleared the General Assembly.