KACo President and Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor and KACo First Vice President and Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken shared with members of the committee KACo’s top priorities for the 2021 legislative session. These priorities include investment in transportation infrastructure, broadband access and affordability, jail relief, opportunities to streamline and collaborate and county revenue flexibility.
“Our top priority is transportation funding, and it’s one of yours as well,” Taylor told the committee. “In our 2019 poll, a majority of our members told us that more than 40 percent of county roads are in need of moderate to significant repair, and a quarter of our members said that more than 60 percent of their roads need repair.
“Many fiscal courts have had to extend the time between road and bridge maintenance schedules due to increased costs and decreased funds,” Taylor added. “In 2018, counties spent almost $60 million out of their general fund dollars on roads and bridges, and this does not include Jefferson or Fayette counties.”
Taylor thanked Rep. Sal Santoro, who has led on the issue, sponsoring legislation for the last three sessions that would begin to address Kentucky’s transportation needs.
“Fourteen other states have increased their road funds and fees in just the last five years, including surrounding states of Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and Illinois,” Taylor said. “Representative Santoro’s bills included something many of you have asked to be addressed, which is to include electric vehicles that use the road but don’t pay any gas tax. While this will only generate $150,000 in the first year based on last year’s bill, it’s a forward-looking approach for such a small but growing percentage of all cars on the road today.”
As COVID-19 has forced an even greater reliance on virtual work, education and healthcare, it has shed light on the pre-COVID-19 issue of the significant stretches of unserved and underserved broadband access at varying levels but certainly a problem across the state. County government was no exception as fiscal courts and court proceedings adapted to virtual meetings to continue to be transparent and still follow CDC and state health and safety protocols.
“While some may consider a lack of broadband a more rural issue, accessibility can be a challenge no matter where you live,” Milliken said.
Despite being from Warren County, the fastest-growing county in the state, her county still faces challenges regarding broadband access.
“We, as counties and KACo, want to be a partner with you finding solutions to address the lack of broadband across our state,” Milliken said, acknowledging there isn’t one-size-fits-all solution to address the need for better broadband across Kentucky.
Jail relief is also one of KACo’s top priorities for the upcoming session.
“Between 2011 and 2019, the state’s population grew by 2 percent,” Milliken said. “Our incarcerated population grew by 31 percent.”
Kentucky’s incarceration problem is driven by drug addiction and a mental health crisis according to Milliken.
“The lack of available mental health beds is not new,” she said. “In the 1950s, there were 330 mental health beds per 100,000 population in America. By the early 2000s, it had dropped to only 29 beds per 100,000 population. This has left county jails as front line detox and mental health facilities.
“We are not equipped to handle this,” Milliken said. “We don’t want to incarcerate the people who need help. We want to help them.”
The final two priorities are geared toward streamlining county services: more collaboration with all government levels and more county revenue flexibility.
“We must work together on an agenda that empowers each county with the tools they need to make the decisions they were elected to make,” Taylor said.