At their first meeting of the New Year, the Madison County Fiscal Court recognized and honored the late District 1 Magistrate Larry Combs' passing in several ways.

When the meeting began, participants held a moment of silence, and a prayer was said by District 2 Magistrate Roger Barger. He spoke of Combs, his family and his 38-year service to the people of Madison County.

Additionally, when the court approved the Madison County Sheriff’s 2021 budget for $4,270,000, Sheriff Mike Coyle said it was one that Combs would have been proud of.

“I lost a friend in Larry Combs, and I know that he would be proud of this budget, just as we are,” Coyle stated.

At the start of 2020, the sheriff’s office was forced to shave $300,000 from their budget and personnel from their staff. But at the beginning of 2021, an increased budget was approved.

After the budget approval, Coyle gave a thorough recap and statistical presentation of his office’s year in 2020.

“We were the first to feel the financial burden with devastating cuts in 2020, and we lost personnel positions to make the required budget, and when we made those cuts, it was a domino effect that came over our agency,” he said.

With no raises, no new hires, no new cruisers, and low morale, Coyle stated three deputies left — additional to the five positions cut — for better-paying jobs.

“This put us in a pretty tough position and made the schedule of putting people on the road and in the court system to serve our citizens tough,” he said. “...Then COVID hits, and when it arrives, it makes everything worse.”

Over the first several months of the pandemic, Coyle reported he had nine staff members who were forced to quarantine, which burdened the department even further.

On July 5, 2020, tragedy struck when the sheriff and his staff were faced with the sudden death of Deputy Michelle Alberston.

Following that, 12 employees tested positive for the coronavirus — including Sheriff Coyle — from November to December of 2020.

“We overcame, adapted, and adjusted not only to the budget but also to what was going on in our country with politics and everything we were called on to do,” Coyle said. “There were a lot of unusual aspects we faced in 2020.”

He then reported to the court several statistics of the work he and his staff continued to do throughout the year, despite their hardships.

In 2020, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office alone responded to 212 drug cases, which led to 365 drug arrests and the seizure of 20 firearms.

Additionally, overdose deaths in Madison County increased from 52 in 2019 to 59 in 2020.

Eviction notices and court papers served were down in 2020, which Coyle attributed to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

With less in-person court during the year, only 2,386 papers were served compared to the previous year of 3,748.

Eviction notices were also heavily impacted by COVID-19, going from 784 to 489 in 2020.

“So the pandemic hit hard in that area,” he said.

All the magistrates thanked Coyle for his report and the department’s unwavering service and stated they were happy they could support an increased budget.

“I know we tied their hands some last year, and the sheriff handled that, and his man handled that,” Magistrate Tom Botkin said.

Magistrate Roger Barger agreed.

“We don’t feel good about cutting anyone’s budget, especially not the sheriff’s department because they are top-notch in my opinion,” Barger said. “We just ran into financial strain that we can’t control, not only their budget but the other budgets we had to cut too.”

Before the meeting’s end, the magistrates and Judge-Executive Reagan Taylor acknowledged the loss of their friend and colleague one-by-one during council comments with a signature sign off of Combs.

“I am just happy to be here,” each said.

Other business:

• Representatives Jackie Dean and John Roden of Kentucky River Foothills Development Council gave an update of the Madison County Response and Empowerment organization, which works collectively with a consortium of local organizations to drive change in how the county responds to the drug epidemic. The group is giving 70 Deterra bags (at-home drug neutralization and disposal bags) to 17 area pharmacies. In addition, MORE will be creating a Web App to help residents find locally available resources.

• The Madison County Clerk’s Office had their budget approved in the amount of just over $24 million, which was a decrease in the previous year’s budget of $400,000.

• The Madison County Clerk’s Office will resume in-person business at the courthouse on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

• The court approved an extension of Bullpen Inc.'s services for planning services in the amount of $45,000 for an additional year.

• The fiscal court expressed their support in a resolution for the legislation to include Eastern Kentucky University as a fourth and equal partner of the Madison County Airport Board.

• Johnny Webb was approved as the Northern Madison County Sanitation District Board member.

• The second reading of Ordinance 20-24 for a zone change for 2761 and 2725 Lexington Road properties was approved to go from UC 7 (agriculture) to UC 3 (neighborhood business). According to Bert Thomas, the planning and codes director, he said it was a unanimous decision by the planning board due to increased economic activity and adjacent areas with similar zones.

• The Madison County Fiscal Court recognized the county’s school board with the Madison County School Board Recognition Proclamation.

• A road fund budget amendment was approved by the court due to un-budgeted receipts of $223,019 acquired as asphalt discretionary funds from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The next Madison County Fiscal Court meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26 at 9:30 a.m.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6695 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.

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