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Commissioner Questions Donations to Campbell Co. Events Amid Budget Crunch

Campbell Co. Commissioner Charlie Coleman found himself again on the losing end of a pair of votes at Wednesday's Fiscal Court meeting in Alexandria.

At issue were the court's plans to donate $2,000 each to the Jolly Park Community Development Council and the Alexandria Fair Board.

"With a deficit budget, how can we afford to do this?," Coleman asked. While Campbell Co. is currently operating on a deficit budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the hole is not as large as what was originally budgeted, Finance Director Marie Schenkel told The River City News. The county had budgeted for a $3 million shortfall and instead is seeing a deficit that is under $1 million.

Next year's budget for 2016-17 is also projected to have a $2.9 million deficit.

Judge/Executive Steve Pendery said that the pair of $2,000 contributions for the annual events are "a judgment call", and the county has often contributed to them in the past. The Alexandria Fair is one of the oldest such fairs in the country and dates back to the 1850's. 

"While we do have a deficit and we have to find ways to cut, these investments yield a bigger return," Pendery said. "One of the values of our relationship with (Jolly Park) CDC is if we give them $2,000, they are gonna give us a festival worth more than that."

Steve Stapleton, a member of the Jolly Park CDC and whose family has played a role in maintaining and improving the park, said that the organization had about $49,000 in its coffers. 

"I got a problem spending the money, especially if they got the $49,000," Coleman said. Stapleton said that the money in the CDC's possession is often earmarked for specific projects, and not general expenses. 

"We're trying to make that park viable," Stapleton said. "I don't think the heroin use has too much to do with what we're doing."

But heroin use has a lot to do with the county's budget deficit. County Administrator Matt Elberfeld told The River City News that the number of inmates in the county jail in Newport directly related to heroin charges has had a significant impact on Campbell's coffers. The county will look for ways to make up the shortfall elsewhere but Pendery was joined by Commissioners Tom Lampe and Brian Painter in approving the $4,000 worth of donations while Coleman dissented. 

"A lot of kids don't get to go to Myrtle Beach, they get to go to the Alexandria Fair," Painter said, noting that he was one of those kids growing up. Coleman challenged whether public funds could be given to private entities like those at the park or the fair, and it was determined that the county could do so, causing Coleman to warn that other such private entities may come asking for funds, too.

"We can compare their heritage," Painter said. "The first fair was 1850. I don't think there's any other entity that has that sort of heritage."

Pendery said that the county benefits from the Alexandria Fair because it plays to the public as a county event - even though it isn't. "We've always been more thrifty than the other Northern Kentucky counties," the judge/executive said. 

"We need to watch our spending and cut our expenditures but I think these are good for the people of Campbell County," Lampe said. 

Next year's budget is expected to be adopted later this month at the next Fiscal Court meeting in Newport.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Campbell County Courthouse in Alexandria (RCN)