Marshall County Commissioner Kevin Spraggs was again the sole vote in opposition of the updated ordinance imposing a $7 monthly fee on electric boxes to fund a $1.9 million annual Marshall County E-911 budget; the vote on the second reading of the measure passed 3-1 during last week's meeting with all other voting members of the Marshall County Fiscal Court voting in favor.
Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall told The Tribune-Courier following the first reading of the updated ordinance in Oct. this ordinance will replace the first ordinance assessing the fee for funding of E-911, passed in Aug.
The most notable change reflected in the second version is to the section which outlines compensatory requirements, which initially stated if retaining 3% of the funds collected did not adequately cover the cost of the collections process the electric companies could request an alternative compensation agreement. The newest version states the electric companies may petition the fiscal court for additional withholdings. In order to receive the additional withholdings, the electric companies would have to provide supporting evidence and the fiscal court "may agree" to it after determining the 3% doesn't provide full compensation.
Following the first reading of the new ordinance, Jackson Purchase Energy Vice President of Human Resources and Communications Scott Adair told The Tribune-Courier this process essentially allows the fiscal court to set a rate and rate structure for the electric companies, which is the crux of their issue with the fee structure.
"Our regulatory authority is the Public Service Commission and we have to appeal to them to set our rates, but this would essentially allow Marshall County to set our rates for us and, we would also have a different rate structure for Marshall County than we would for any of the other counties we serve," he explained.
"Private organizations collecting for a government, that's not right," he added. "We support the fact that 911 needs to be better funded; we agree with that, we just think there's a better way and if you can pay administrative costs one time and get the same product it just makes more sense. This way doesn't make sense. This is just the wrong way to do it."
The county remains unable to collect the fee as the federal judge presiding over the lawsuit filed by West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WKRECC) and Jackson Purchase Energy Corporation (JPEC) against the fiscal court ordered no enforcement of the fee, pending further action by the court.
The agreed order entered by Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell with the U.S. District Court Western District of Kentucky in Paducah on Sept. 27 remains the most recent action in the lawsuit case.
The suit was filed on Sept. 4 by Edward T. Depp and R. Brooks Herrick of Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP of Louisville, representing both WKRECC and JPEC, taking a number of issues with the ordinance imposing the $7 monthly fee on electric bills to fund Marshall County 911. The attorneys contend the ordinance violates the United States Constitution and the Kentucky Constitution, is unenforceable due to being vague and uncertain and impermissibly infringes upon the regulator authority of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC).
On Aug. 26, a split vote of 3-1 during a special-called meeting approved imposing the $7 fee on electric boxes as well as E-911's departmental budget in excess of $1.9 million. Spraggs offered the sole vote in opposition of both the budget and the fee; his motion for imposing a $5 monthly fee died after never receiving a second.
The $7 monthly fee is set to fund the $1.9 million annual Marshall County E-911 budget, which county officials have said won't go into effect until/if the collections of the fee begins.
Spraggs voted in opposition of the fee and the 911 budget, expressing concern both were in excess of what was needed. Commissioners Monti Collins and Justin Lamb, along with Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal, voted in favor of both.
During that meeting, WKRECC President and CEO David Smart and his legal counsel, Greg Carter, as well as JPEC President and CEO Greg Grissom spoke again in opposition to the measure saying it was not their place as private entities to collect fees for a governmental agency and reminding the court they would have no authority to penalize non payment. During the first reading of the ordinance imposing the fee on Aug. 6, Smart, Carter and Grissom also advised the fiscal court members their boards had passed resolutions in opposition to collection of such a fee and they had been authorized to seek any legal action necessary to oppose it if necessary.
In other business:
• Bonita Walker, a Marshall County landowner, spoke for approximately half an hour about ongoing issues with trespassers on her property and said the ATV/UTV riders destroying crops was no different than if they rode through retail stores. She told the fiscal court she didn't feel as if the dispatchers at 911 took her seriously when she called to report trespassers and doesn't feel as if the deputies respond in a timely manner. Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal suggested she take the matter to a judicial court. Darnall reminded her they have at least one case pending against one of the people who has trespassed and criminal matters take time to resolve and prosecute.
• The fiscal court members met in executive session to discuss litigation and personnel; there were no announcements made when they returned to regular session.