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Hopkinsville City Council Approves Interim Mayor Appointment

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Jennifer P. Brown
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Hoptown Chronicle

Two tax increases – one on business profits and the other aimed at a local utility – passed on first reading Tuesday night at the Hopkinsville City Council meeting and will be heard again for final passage at a special council meeting Thursday.

In another vote, the council unanimously approved Ward 6 Councilman Wendell Lynch’s appointment to serve as interim mayor through the end of 2020. His swearing-in ceremony will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Memorial Building.

The first tax measure will increas the city’s business license tax from 1.5% to 1.95% on net profits, while also eliminating the $10,000 cap that’s currently in place on the business tax. It’s estimated the business tax increase will generate an additional $1.24 million in the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The second measure creates a payment in lieu of taxes (better known as a pilot fee) of 2% on gross revenue from the Hopkinsville Water Environment Authority’s sale of water and sewer service in the city limits. That increase will generate about $310,000 annually, city officials have estimated.

Copies of the tax ordinances were provided to council members a day or two ahead of the meeting but were not included in the meeting packet that is always available to the public and the media on the city’s website before each meeting. Ordinances and supporting documents that are not available on the website before a meeting are routinely available in hard copies to the public and set on a table at the back of the council chambers. That did not happen Tuesday night with the tax ordinances.

As the city clerk read the first ordinance prior to the council vote, Mark Graham, a Hopkinsville man who runs a Facebook page that is focused on opposition to local government tax increases, approached a council member to complain. City officials then rushed paper copies over to four news reporters and the clerk continued reading the ordinances. 

After the meeting, Lynch, who was serving as presiding officer, apologized for not making the ordinances available before they were being read for a vote. It was not intentional, he said. 

The city’s Pension/Future Funding Committee, which Lynch chaired, met for several months before making its recommendation on a combination of tax increases and budget cuts to deal with state-mandated pension payments that will cost the city a combined $66 million over the next 10 years.

Lynch wanted to complete his committee work and have the ability to vote on some of the recommendations before he takes the interim mayor’s appointment following Carter Hendricks’ resignation to become executive director of the South Western Kentucky Economic Development Council. He wouldn’t be able to vote as a council member once he becomes mayor. However, a Hopkinsville mayor does vote to break ties on the council.

The council was split on the two tax measures. 

The vote was 8-4 on the business license tax increase. Voting in favor were council members Darvin Adams, Kimberly McCarley, Don Ahart, Paul Henson, Amy Craig, Wendell Lynch, Patricia Bell and Phillip Brooks. Voting against were Terry Parker, Tom Johnson, Jimmy Dossett and Jason Bell.

No council member commented on the business license tax before casting the vote.

On the pilot fee for HWEA, the vote was 7-5. Henson, who had approved of the business license tax, voted against the pilot fee.

“I won’t support this,” he said, explaining that many of his constituents are seniors who live on fixed incomes. They would have a hard time, he said, paying a higher utility bill (if HWEA passes along the fee to customers).

The council disagreed about the need to have a special called meeting to quickly adopt the tax increases on second reading. 

Ahart said he supported the call for a special meeting (at 5:30 p.m. Thursday immediately before the council’s regular monthly Committee of the Whole meeting) because he wanted Lynch to be able to vote on the tax ordinances. 

Parker and Johnson questioned the need for the rush since it appeared the council still had the votes to pass both measures even if Lynch’s vote was out of the mix. 

The vote to set the special meeting on Thursday passed 10-2 with Parker and Johnson voting no.

In other matters at Tuesday’s meeting, the council:

Voted unanimously to approve property owner Ramsey Morris’ request to rezone a 1.5-acre parcel on Russellville Road approximately 240 feet east of Airport Road from R-4 (multi-family residential) to B-4 (arterial commercial). 

Recognized the top honorees in the Mayor’s Scholars Program essay contest. They are: Matthew Hauret, UHA, first; Alexis Haskins, CCMS, second; Andrew Riggs, HMS, third; Allison Watson, HCA, fourth; Ryan Hines, CCMS, fifth; Ella Zordel, HMS, sixth; Aalaisha McGregor, CCMS, seventh; Riley Bailey, UHA, eighth; Alayna Middleton, CCMS, ninth; and Livi Ray, HMS, 10th place.

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Credit Jennifer P. Brown / Hoptown Chronicle
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Hoptown Chronicle
Councilman Wendell Lynch stands with students recognized as essay contest winners during the city council meeting. They are (from right) Matthew Hauret, UHA, first; Alexis Haskins, CCMS, second; Andrew Riggs, HMS, third; Allison Watson, HCA, fourth; Ryan Hines, CCMS, fifth; Ella Zordel, HMS, sixth; Aalaisha McGregor, CCMS, seventh; Riley Bailey, UHA, eighth; Alayna Middleton, CCMS, ninth; and Livi Ray, HMS, 10th place.

(Jennifer P. Brown is the editor and founder of Hoptown Chronicle. Reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org.)