Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Boone Co. may fund car test

$20M surplus would be used

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Recently appointed Boone County Commissioner Tim Hamilton has a radical, but likely politically popular, idea for how the county fiscal court can use a portion of its $20 million budget surplus.

        Mr. Hamilton, a Florence Democrat who took office July 1, has proposed the county make a one-time expenditure to pay for the $20 tailpipe tests most vehicles in Boone County must go through every two years.

        Mr. Hamilton estimates that paying for the tests — unpopular with motorists — will cost the county about $1 million.

        “One way to return the money to the citizens of Boone County is to solve a problem that has been irritating people for some time now, and that is the federal and state mandate to require vehicle emissions tests,” Mr. Hamilton said.

        “I think we can do a tax refund, or send the money back to the people, by paying for the emissions test,” said Mr. Hamilton, who was appointed to the fiscal court by Gov. Paul Patton after former Commissioner Robert Hay resigned.

        But Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore cautioned that while the county does have a surplus now, future projects — including road repairs and constructions of parks in Union, Walton and other parts of the county — will require some of that money, though he said the specific cost amounts of those projects has not been determined.

        Mr. Moore also said $3 million of the surplus is a “rainy day” fund equal to about 10 percent of the county's overall 2001 budget, a benchmark recommended by the Kentucky Department of Local Government.

        And he questioned using tax dollars to pay for the vehicle emissions tests. Boone County Administrator Jim Parsons and County Attorney Larry Crigler are determining if the money could even be spent legally on something like a test for a privately owned vehicle, Mr. Moore said.

        “You can't pave a private road with tax dollars, you can't pay somebody's utility bill with tax dollars,” Mr. Moore said. “This is not a county program. It's a charge for a service that the state has imposed, and I think it would be an improper use of county tax dollars.”

        The tests are mandated by the federal government as a way to help keep air clean. The Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet administers the program.

        Every vehicle registered in Northern Kentucky and built after 1968 must go through the tests, which cost $20. If a vehicle fails, it must be repaired and then retested before license plates can be renewed.

        Motorists have complained about the tests since they began in 1999, saying they are inconvenient, costly and unnecessary.

        Mr. Hamilton said the county can afford to pay for the tests. He said last year alone the county made $1.1 million in interest on the $20 million surplus.

        And he said that on major projects the county typically borrows money through bond issues.

        “We're not spending the (surplus) money ... and we're drawing interest on it,” Mr. Hamilton said. “It's not the function of government, at least it shouldn't be, to earn interest on the people's money. They should be getting some of it back.”

        Mr. Moore said Mr. Hamilton's proposal might be couched in politics — the entire fiscal court is up for election next year — because the vehicle tests are so unpopular with motorists.

        “I think this is the first sign that the election season is fast approaching,” he said.


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