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Leaders Cite Heroin Impact & Jail Costs as Campbell Copes with Strained Budget

There is a discouraging financial outlook in Campbell County and leaders here cite the impact of heroin use on the detention center as a main culprit.

"For the first time in 33 years of supervising government budgets, there is a deficit on my watch," said Judge/Executive Steve Pendery, who was first elected in 1998, and was mayor of Fort Thomas prior. "It was not unexpected but it is unfortunate."

The $41 million 2016-17 county budget was approved by a vote of 3-1 with the support of Pendery and Commissioners Brian Painter and Tom Lampe. Commissioner Charlie Coleman dissented. 

"It is fair to ask why," Pendery said of the deficit that the county is facing. He blames factors like less money coming in from state road aid funds, particularly for rural roads, as well as rising health care costs for employees. And then there's the jail.

"The main reason we're going to need to be careful has to do with the jail budget and the heroin epidemic," Pendery said. While the judge/executive stated that the detention center operates efficiently, "there are too many people to look after."

"When I was a kid, there were 40 jail cells. There were 140 when I was elected. By the end of July, we'll have 700 beds," Pendery said, noting the recent expansion of the detention center. The jail operates with a budget of $11 million, $5 million of which will come from the county next year. Pendery said other line items in the budget have increased due to heroin use, treatment, and arrests.

The result is a strained budget that will not allow for raises for employees, and no new positions except at the jail as needed. "Hopefully within a year or two, we'll pull this back in balance," Pendery said, adding that the county has "ample reserves" to cover shortfalls. County leaders are also hopeful that the deficit will not be as large as it currently appears, at $2.9 million. "We will do everything in our power to close that gap," the judge said. The current budget was projected to have a deficit between $800,000 and $900,000 when adopted last summer. Currently, that number is in the $400,000 to $500,000 range, Pendery said. 

"We will narrow it to where the following year, it can be effectively dealt with."

Resident Linda Nesbitt asked Pendery about what moves are being made to improve the financial position of the county, specifically in the area of creating more revenue.

Pendery said that the county's options for revenue sources don't leave much room for enhancement. He complained that the payroll tax rate's peak has been frozen by the state. Without the option of raising the rate on current payrolls, the county has to push for more employers and employees. "If we get more jobs, we'll get more money," he said. 

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Campbell Co. Administration Building (RCN file)