Whitesburg KY

County workers ask for 8% raise

Budget too tight, court replies

County employees are not likely to get the eight-percent pay increase they have requested. That was the message delivered this week during the January meeting of the Letcher Fiscal Court.

The pay hike was requested Monday night by John Lucas, who appeared before the court on behalf of his fellow workers. Lucas said he was there to ask that an across-theboard raise be included in the county’s 2008-2009 budget. Lucas said the two-percent raise the workers received last year was inadequate to meet cost of living increases, and said the county was in danger of losing good workers if it doesn’t increase salaries.

“Every cost has gone up,” said Lucas. “We thank the court for raising wages over the years, but we’re staying at a level now that is just making an existence.”

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward told Lucas that while he sympathizes with the workers, re- cently-announced cuts in state funding will probably make it impossible to fund a raise beyond the two percent that is planned. Ward also pointed out that total compensation to county employees already increased by 11.44 percent in 2007. Ward said he arrived at that total by combining a 9.44 percent increase in insurance premiums paid by the county to the two-percent cost of living increase. Ward said he expects a similar increase in insurance rates for the coming year.

“We would like to give you more,” said Ward. “But we just have so much. I don’t know where it’s going to come from. The state has already cut its jail funding by 1.5 percent, and we have no idea about other cuts coming.”

“Two percent is killing us,” said Lucas. “If you want a better class of worker you have to pay them. Two percent is a slap in the face.”

Letcher County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told Lucas it is difficult to planned two percent would be feasible. He said he would have a better idea in April after the state budget is enacted into law. Magistrate Archie Banks added that a number of surrounding counties have already been faced with laying off county workers because to budget shortfalls. Hampton called on court members to “tighten their belts” to avoid similar shortfalls and layoffs.

In a related matter, Magistrate Wayne Fleming asked Lucas why the county employees were no longer being represented by the United Steelworkers Union. Lucas said that because the county ran an open shop, the union had failed. He said the workers who didn’t pay their union dues were receiving the same wages as those who did, reducing the incentive to join the union.

The court received good news from Letcher County Court Clerk Winston Meade, who presented the county with a check for $100,000 in excess fees generated by the payment of delinquent taxes in 2007.

Meade also told the court that because Letcher County residents have been asking out-ofcounty car dealers to register their new vehicles in Letcher County, the clerk’s office also collected $1,750,000 in sales taxes and license receipts. Meade said he would pay the county another $3,000 when an audit is completed.

Fleming told Meade he has been impressed by the number of compliments he hears about friendly and efficient service provided by Meade’s staff. Banks agreed and said he has heard high praise for the improvements made to the deeds and records room.

The court also received good financial news from Gary Cornett, director of the Letcher County Recycling Center. Cornett said the center, located at the mouth of Cowan Creek, has tripled its income since 2006, earning $48,488.55 for 749.62 tons of recycled material in 2007. The 2006 total was 653.45 tons with revenues of $24,201.04. Cornett said the center also saved the county $75,512 in tipping fees of $36.05 per ton.

To add to the “unbudgeted” income, Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb’s office presented a check to the county for $14,000 in excess fees. Webb told the court he had finished paying off operating loans from the state which were necessary to take out last year and is starting out with a clean slate. He said that because of state accounting procedures, his office is also broke because they won’t begin receiving revenues for the 2007 tax receipts until March. The court voted to advance $20,000 to the sheriff’s office for operating expenses until the state begins to repay tax fees.

“It’s not a good way to run a business,” said Webb. “But that’s the way the state does it.”

In a split vote, the court agreed to extend a loan of $12,500 to the county’s domestic violence center. Phyllis Barker, representing Letcher County Cares, told the court the center was awarded a federal grant for operating expenses but hasn’t received the money yet. Barker asked the court for $12,500 until the money comes in. Judge Ward said the court could be repaid with line item funding from the state’s allocation to the center.

The court voted to allocate $100,000 in coal severance tax funds to the center in its coal severance priority list, but Ward said severance funds can’t be used for operating expenses. Banks noted that the allocation is No. 24 on the list and probably won’t get funded anyway. Fleming moved to allocate the $12,500 to the center and Ward seconded. The motion carried four to two with Banks and Magistrate Codell Gibson voting no and Fleming, Ward, and Magistrates Keith Adams and Bobby Lewis voting yes.

Lexington Architect Lee Sims, project architect for the Old Jenkins High School, was on the meeting’s agenda but did not attend, leading Magistrate Fleming to call for Sims to be replaced.

During his report to the court. Jim Polly, chairman of the Old Jenkins High School Committee, said he had spoken with Sims earlier and that Sims had not mentioned the meeting. Polly thought he might not have known he was on the agenda. Fleming asked Polly to bring all outstanding bills to the next meeting so that all accounts on the old school can be closed.

While discussing a $1,500 fee from Sims for a change order, Fleming told the court he believes the best policy would be to hire a new architect to complete the project. Judge Ward added that he and Fleming had visited the school last week and would like to build one more large meeting room to in an attempt to generate some income for the school.

In other business:

. Appointed former Whitesburg Mayor Nathan Baker and David “Butch” Chaltes to the Letcher County Tourism Commission. Magistrate Fleming questioned the utility bills for the Tourism Center, which is largely unused. Fleming said that unless the building has a leak, the water bill is excessive as well as the electrical bill. Judge Ward said several new board members had also questioned the bill.

. Conducted the second readings of ordinances to set a speed limit of 15 MPH for Grays Branch and 10 MPH at Whitco Loop.

. Voted to amend the budget by $228,170.14 to accept unbudgeted funds from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority for the Blackey/Whitesburg Connector and the Sandlick water lines.

. Voted to authorize a lease agreement for the Food Stamp Office at the Campbells Branch Community Center.

. Magistrate Fleming asked the court if they could begin to record meetings on DVDs every month to facilitate information retrieval. Fleming also asked Judge Ward to look into providing laptops for each magistrate to cut down on the amount of paper used by the court.

. Presented United States Army Sgt. Paul Michael Whitaker of Cromona with a certificate of appreciation for his service. Whitaker has completed two tours in Iraq.

. In reports from county departments:

. Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto reported that the skatepark is now operational in West Whitesburg and is being used regularly. Barto said the skaters say they love the park, and that between 50 and 60 are usually there on weekends.

. Barto also reported that County Surveyor Richard Hall is currently surveying park sites at Thornton and Kingscreek.

. Barto said he also has sent information to Susan Reiber, who is working with the Equestrian Games in Lexington, in hopes of getting the Pioneer Horse Trail designated as a Recreational Horse Trail before the games take place in 2010. He also attended computer web training classes to facilitate work with the county web site.

. 911 Director Brandon Conley reported replacing and repairing 911 signs and working on memorial bridge signs to honor fallen Letcher County service personnel. Conley also repaired and replaced pagers for fire departments and programmed new ones. Conley reported filling in with the road department to replace workers who were off work on several occasions.

. The County Road Foreman’s report showed county workers doing normal winter road maintenance, gravelling and grading roads, repairing and replacing culverts, cutting brush, and fixing potholes. Road Department workers also cut trees and worked to stabilize the shoulders on several roads.

. Letcher County Litter Warden Darrel Banks reported checking eight dumps and finding five names in them. Banks also added eight names for garbage billing to the sanitation department and had two summons written and served. He spent two days in court resulting in one bench warrant being issued and one guilty plea.

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