Fiscal Court to pursue car-sharing tax, approves jail agreement with Mercer

Published 9:40 am Saturday, November 4, 2023

By Fiona Morgan

The Fiscal Court voted to pursue starting a new tax on auto-sharing services at their meeting on Oct. 24.

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The recently-passed Kentucky House Bill 8 lowers the state income tax year-over-year while allowing other taxes to be started. It allows counties to enact a car-sharing tax, among other taxes.

The ordinance would allow the county to collect a car-sharing license fee of 3%. County Attorney Chris Herron explained that only three counties in northern Kentucky have enacted this tax, which are all near Cincinnati with a major airport.

Herron said the license fees will be required to be paid to the county on a monthly basis. The county would have to figure out who collects the fees, whether it’s the county clerk’s office, CVB, or an economic development agency. The Fiscal Court would get a 3% collection fee on the 3% tax.

Herron said the clerk’s office already collects many fees, and if it goes to economic development, then it would have to be used for economic development activities. The tax may also be used on vehicle rentings.

“When you get 3% of gross rental fees, what would happen is that the person that’s renting the vehicle to you is probably going to pass that off to the customer,” Herron said. “If it’s a leased vehicle, then we could get that [tax], and I know a lot of people do lease vehicles these days. So that would be probably where we would get most of our money.”

Herron said the tax may not be worth enacting, since the county does not have very many ride-sharing services or rental services available. He said he tested out trying to get an Uber or Lyft ride in Danville, and didn’t have much luck.

“Yesterday on two separate occasions I tried to see if we could get an Uber or Lyft, and it acts like you can, and then it just says ‘wait five minutes, 10 minutes’… and we just couldn’t get one,” Herron said.

He explained that the county would not get much money from the tax until the county grows, and more ride-sharing and rental services come in.

Magistrate Jason Cullen said he’s been able to use ride-sharing services to get to Lexington and back, and that people do use them. He said it would be better to have the tax in place sooner than later to prepare for future growth.

“We tend to play a lot of catch-up on things instead of being proactive,” Cullen said. “I spend a good amount of my time these days on the road, and we utilize these all over the place, not just in big cities, and they are around. We have a couple here, they may not be on service right now but they are here.”

Magistrate Paula Bodner said she is concerned that taxing someone would keep them from using an Uber when they may need to. She said the tax could also cause insurance rates to go up, which would end up hurting the everyday person.

“You think that people don’t use the rentals, but some do, like when their cars don’t have insurance to pay for a [replacement] car, so they have to rent a car,” Bodner explained. “I can see it in the future maybe, but I’m just not there yet.”

Every magistrate voted to pursue the tax except for Bodner.

Herron and magistrates will be further researching the impact it would have on the county. The tax would have to be passed as an auto-sharing ordinance.

Jail agreement with Mercer

The court passed a new joint agreement for the Boyle County Detention Center to house Mercer County inmates. It will go into effect on July 1, 2024 for its first year.

Boyle County has been housing Mercer inmates for a while, and they’ve had a joint jail committee. County Administrator Julie Wagner explained that this new agreement will no longer require the joint jail committee.

Wagner said if Mercer County signs the agreement, then their obligations under the joint jail committee go away. If they stay with the committee, then they would become a partner in building a new detention center, which Boyle County has started the process on. Jailer Brian Wofford said it would be easier for just Boyle to work on the new jail, rather than having two counties work together on it.

Boyle will accept prisoners from Mercer for placement in general population housing as long as bed space is available. According to the agreement, “Mercer agrees to pay for a minimum of 20 beds per day in general population, which BCDC will hold in reserve for Mercer prisoners. Beds in reserve will be a combination of male and female housing areas.”

Mercer will be responsible for all costs of incarceration of prisoners arrested on Mercer County charges. During the Oct. 24 meeting, Wofford said the counties had everything figured out except the price per day per inmate.

He said Mercer County wanted to change the previously-agreed upon rate in the contract from $65 to $50 per diem. Wofford said that would make the jail break even and not have much extra money.

“As a county we would break even, because one, we’re going to assume all the risk; so if there’s any lawsuits or anything we’re having to fund that,” Wofford said. “Two, costs continue to go up; payroll is the biggest, healthcare is not going to get any cheaper, food is not going to get any cheaper.”

Magistrate Tom Ellis explained that the $50 per diem idea came from a Mercer attorney who did a calculation. However, a finance officer did a calculation that came to $66 per diem.

Wofford explained that the jail budget of $5.3 million, divided by 365 days equals about $14,500, divided by the maximum number of 220 inmates equals $66 per day.

Cullen said if their costs continue to rise much more, and they’re responsible for liability, they should charge $72 per diem so the jail won’t risk losing money. Cullen made a motion to change the rate from $65 to $72.

However, Wofford said he was fine with keeping the rate at $65 since it’s currently more than enough to cover costs.

“The past three or four years I’ve come in $1.3 million under budget, so my actual cost [per diem] is about $46 I think,” Wofford said. “So we’re still in there to cover our cost.”

Cullen withdrew his motion, and the court agreed to the $65 per diem rate. The rate will be evaluated annually during the budget cycle.

Mercer will be responsible for all medical and dental expenses that are beyond the contracted care.

In other business, the court:

• Introduced the new Animal Control Director Kristen Slone.

• Passed a new Animal Control Policy and Procedure manual.

• Appointed Rob Caldwell, Marshall Walt, and Bart Gover to the Airport Board.

• Made proclamations for Veterans Day, Pancreatic Cancer Month, and Home Health and Hospice Month.