HAZARD — At a special called meeting on July 29, a motion was made for the Perry County Fiscal Court to acquire a $1.2 million loan from a local bank, which will be used to pay debts that have accumulated over the past few years at the Kentucky River Regional Jail.
This resolution comes a couple of weeks after a special called meeting resulted in the furlough of county workers one day every pay period due to budget issues. However, Judge Exec. Scott Alexander says this measure by the Fiscal Court is necessary.
“We’ve got 150 inmates and we have to pay somebody $30 a day to keep them somewhere else. Plus, we’ve still got the bond at the jail, and all of this is not going away,” Alexander said at Friday’s meeting.
Although the jail in Hazard is considered a regional facility, 75 percent of responsibility for the jail falls on Perry County, whereas the remaining 25 percent belongs to Knott County, according to discussion among the Fiscal Court and County Treasurer at Friday’s meeting. The IRS is already pressuring the Perry County Government to pay the jail’s past due debts. However, the resolution to borrow $1.2 million was not greeted with unanimous approval by the magistrates.
Magistrate Keith Miller of Dist. 1 voiced his concerns. Miller wanted a provision in the resolution which states specifically that the loan can only be used to pay for past debts at the jail.
“The way we are borrowing money right now, Scott, this is a loose loan,” Miller said at the meeting.
“I’m definitely not going to not pay the IRS and pay the debt,” Alexander said, “I mean, they’re already sending us foreclosure notices.”
The exchange between Miller and Alexander was calm and unfolded as a discussion and not an argument. But still, Miller highlighted the fact that other loans had been taken out by the Fiscal Court and, with burdens placed on the budget, he hoped for clearer indications that this loan could only be used for the stated purpose.
“I just want to say that I try to look at it through the people’s eyes,” said Miller, “I try to protect their tax dollars.”
Alexander pledged that the money borrowed would be used for the jail. During the meeting Alexander stated, “We need to make it clear that it was during Denny Ray’s watch that this was put on us.”
Alexander also went on to say that a high percentage of the jail’s debt was accumulated as far back as 2011 through 2014. Former Perry County Judge Exec. Denny Ray Noble argues against Alexander’s claim that current budget problems can be blamed on him.
“When I left office, the county’s bills were all paid and he had more than half of a full budget to work with,” says Noble, “The law says that an incoming judge has to be left with money in the budget to operate the government.”
Noble also illustrates that Perry County has received two budgets since Alexander took office. Coal severance tax funding has dropped over the past few years. However, coal severance money was not mentioned at Friday’s meeting as a reason for debt at the jail. Mismanagement of the jail’s budget in previous years was blamed for the debt problems by the current administration.
When money is placed into a specific government account, such as the account for the jail, it cannot by law be used for any other project. Miller’s concern was that without specifics set forth in the resolution, the borrowed money, even if it is placed in the jail’s account, could possibly be used to pay expenses other than previously accumulated debt.
“I’m not against borrowing the money, it’s just the way we are borrowing it,” said Miller. Later in the meeting, Miller also said, “There’s nothing we can do about it now. We have to pay it, but i just want to make sure that we protect ourselves too.”
Judge Alexander, plus Magistrates Ronald Combs and Kenny Cole expressed their opinions that the money from the loan would be used in accordance with the resolution’s intended purpose. The motion to borrow $1.2 million for the jail was placed before the Perry County Fiscal Court. Magistrates Ronald Combs and Kenny Cole, along with Judge Scott Alexander voted yes to the resolution. Magistrate Keith Miller voted no. The resolution passed by majority vote. Therefore, the money will be borrowed by the Perry County Government.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.