County officials debate spending during fiscal court meeting

Monday’s meeting of the Russell County Fiscal Court lasted nearly two hours, with a large portion of the meeting focused on county spending as the conversation turned to the purchase of new vehicles and equipment discussed last month.

At last month’s meeting, Magistrate Mickey Garner raised concerns about some aging road equipment owned by the county and introduced a motion that was later approved by the fiscal court for County Judge Executive Gary Robertson to look into some options for new equipment.

“In our road committee meeting earlier, we discussed buying quite a bit of new equipment,” Garner said in last month’s meeting. “I know we don’t have the money, but I think we can borrow the money through KACO or I think a local bank would do it. We don’t have nothing over there but absolute junk and we run into all kinds of problems during this last storm.”

Garner recommended that the county purchase “three or four” new trucks with salt boxes and blades and a tractor and bush hog.

“I know it’s going to be several thousand dollars and I know we can’t pay it off in a year or two, but whether we get re-elected or even if we run again, at least whoever comes in next will have something to work with,” Garner said.

Robertson told the court that the county could purchase a 100-horsepower John Deere tractor with a side cutter at a state-contract price of roughly $116,000.

That purchase was unanimously approved, and County Treasurer Kim Fenske told the magistrates that there were sufficient funds within the county’s equipment budget to purchase the tractor and side cutter, minus around $12,000 that would come from other areas of the budget.

However, discussions continued as the topic of new trucks (with additional equipment) was brought up.

Robertson said he had looked around at some possible options and gathered that the cost of the new trucks and equipment would cost in the neighborhood of $111,000. Fenske said the county could probably manage that purchase but as discussions turned to a third truck, Fenske said that could be an issue.

Fenske said the county has spent more money on asphalt than had been budgeted, leaving little to no room for additional large purchases.

“Because we spend so much money on asphalt, I’m running short,” she told the magistrates, noting that some funds to pay for asphalt have come out of the general fund the last two years.

“If we keep going to the general fund to surplus other entities, these other funds, the well is going to run dry,” Fenske added.

Backing up her claim, Fenske told the magistrates that $300,000 was budgeted for asphalt last fiscal year. More than $1 million was spent.

“That’s where the problem is,” Fenske said.

The problem can be somewhat remedied with a transfer to cover those extra expenses, but Fenske said similar situations have occurred the last 4-5 years.

“I’m having to rob Peter to pay Paul with these line items,” she said.

As an example, Fenske pointed out that $70,000 was budgeted for rock this fiscal year, but the county has already spent more than that.

“They still keep calling in to pay for rock,” Fenske said. “I understand, but still.”

Third District Magistrate Ronald Johnson questioned Fenske on the topic of asphalt money, saying he didn’t know “where all that money is going.”

“It all comes out of the same pot,” Fenske said, noting that asphalt money is divided among magistrates to spend within their respective districts.

Discussions quickly turned to money from the CARES Act that was passed in U.S. Congress last year near the onset of the pandemic. Johnson and Garner asked questions about where county funds received through the federal package went.

Fenske and Robertson explained that the money was provided to entities like the Russell County Sheriff’s Office, Russell County EMS and Russell County Detention Center, and was specifically earmarked (by mandate) for certain expenditures by the Kentucky Department for Local Government.

The majority of those funds went toward salaries of employees of those agencies.

The county received $580,000 that went into general fund.

“That just basically took the deficit,” Fenske said.

“The CARES money itself, for the sheriff’s office, was for salaries for first responders, people out here on the frontlines of COVID-19,” Polston said. “That’s exactly what the CARES money was for. My deputies and my staff, and I’m sure it was the same for many of these other agencies, did the best they could with what they did and was reimbursed from the federal government for putting their butts on the line.”

Robertson brought the conversation back to the trucks and Fenske said right now, she thinks money will have to be pulled from the general fund to purchase the trucks “because I don’t know where else I can get it from.”

“I’ll do the best I can,” Fenske added.

Garner continued on and turned his attention to recycling.

Garner questioned Fenske about cardboard recycling and alleged late payments, and then said he and Johnson visited a recycling center in Pulaski County.

“Me and Ronald made a little run today,” Garner said. “We went to Pulaski County and they don’t have no trouble selling theirs.”

“Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and appoint Ronald and you to a committee to look into that for us and get us some info,” Robertson said in response.






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Zac Oakes is the News and Sports Director for and Laker Country WJRS 104.9 FM.