Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Kenton County lacks cash to build new jail

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        TAYLOR MILL — Kenton County officials admitted Tuesday they looked for a site for a new county jail before coming up with a way to pay for it.

        As a result, Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd told Kenton Fiscal Court, plans to announce a site for and public hearings on the proposed $4.3 million jail have been suspended until the revenue question has been answered.

        Kenton County has spent nearly 20 months and nearly $200,000 wrestling with the jail issue.

Mistake made
        County Commissioner Dan Humpert said pressure to do something last year with a site near the 3L Highway in Covington — which the previous fiscal court recommended — was part of the problem.

        “We got the cart before the horse,” Mr. Humpert said. “We blew that. We made a mistake.”

        Mr. Murgatroyd said in a prepared statement that the county has not had the cash flow for the jail for at least the last five years.

        A bigger question looms: Does a state law prevent Kenton County from raising its payroll tax, which county officials say is necessary to build the jail?

        Mr. Murgatroyd said the law — it took effect July 15 — prevents the county from increasing its payroll tax up to 1 percent and may permanently scuttle the jail.

        The increase would have cost someone with an annual salary of $25,000 an extra $37 and someone who makes $70,000 a year an additional $480.

        “If we don't have the money,” we can't build the jail,” Mr. Murgatroyd said. “Without the increase in (the payroll tax), I don't know where we'll get the money.”

        The county is looking to the courts for the answer.

        According to Mr. Murgatroyd, County Attorney Garry Edmondson plans to file suit to determine whether the new law is constitutional. Mr. Murgatroyd did not know when it would be filed because he was not sure whether the case would be heard in Kenton County or in Franklin County. (The law was passed in Frankfort.)

Hands tied
        The county contends the law is unconstitutional because a clause makes it retroactive to Jan. 1.

        “In this instance, it ties our hands,” Mr. Murgatroyd said.

        The county had been looking at several Covington sites this year.


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