There will be no raise for Letcher County’s hourly employees in the foreseeable future, the Letcher Fiscal Court said this week.
At its August meeting on Monday, the told county workers that a raise is not feasible at this time. County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told employee John Lucas, who spoke for county workers, that that even a 25-cent-per-hour raise now could put workers in jeopardy of layoff s at a later time. Judge/Executive Jim Ward asked if any of the county’s five magistrates wished to introduce a motion to address the matter, but none was made.
The court’s decision not to act on the raise came after an emotional speech by Lucas, who demanded an apology for himself and his brotherin law, Red Austin. Austin, who said he was a disabled coal miner and a Vietnam veteran, told District Two Magistrate Archie Banks that he felt Banks had been out of line when he spoke to him during Lucas’s plea for a raise at the last court meeting. Austin said Banks had told him to shut up. Banks said he had not said that, but had told Austin that he was not part of the conversation.
“That man wronged me,” said Austin. “He told me to sit down and shut my mouth.”
Austin’s comments came during the public participation portion of the meeting. When Lucas rose to speak, he directed his words at Banks and Ward and demanded apologies. Lucas said Austin’s service in Vietnam and his voluntary work with veterans’ organizations should entitle him to more respect from the court. Lucas said both he and Austin were disrespected by the court, particularly by Banks.
“We the people say ‘respect us’.” said Lucas. “Do not try to intimidate us or harass our freedom of speech.”
Lucas accused Banks of coming to the Letcher County Garage on July 29 and telling him he (Banks) would make Lucas’s life a “living hell.” He also said Banks had threatened to “whip him,” to which Lucas added, “I don’t think so.”
Lucas filed a grievance with Ward’s office for the alleged behavior by Banks under Letcher County Court Personnel Policies. In the grievance report, Banks is accused of coming to the county garage and using curse words and obscene language and telling Lucas to shut his mouth and saying he would make his life a living hell as well as threatening to whip him if he didn’t keep quiet.
However, an opinion written by County Attorney Harold Bolling advises that the court has no jurisdiction over the grievance or over Banks’s behavior, because it did not occur when Banks was acting as a magistrate. Bolling wrote that the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General (AG) has said many times that magistrates have to obey personnel policies only during a legal meeting of the court. Bolling’s opinion said that under the AG’s interpretations, Banks had operated solely as an individual citizen in his confrontation with Lucas. Bolling also wrote that because Banks’s position carries no administrative or executive power, the court has no authority to act on Lucas’s grievance.
“I wrote the opinion,” said Bolling. “The action you filed cannot be addressed by the court.”
“We deserve respect,” said Lucas. “I’m proud that I cut grass. Red Austin and I demand a public apology from the court. You (Judge Ward) sat there and said nothing.”
Ward replied that he should have called both Banks and Lucas to order during the July meeting, but said he wanted to allow each man the opportunity to have his say. He added that he and County Treasurer Hampton had visited Lucas at the county garage and had brought the financial figures to show him. However, Lucas said that county workers need a pay increase and said they are not being respected because two salaried workers had gotten raises when hourly workers have not.
“I’m not willing to give up my honor for a building,” said Lucas, apparently in reference to the county recreation center which is currently under construction.
Lucas also used as part of his argument a comment made by County Treasurer Hampton, who said earlier this summer that the court is currently in good financial. However, Hampton said that while the court is in good shape, it has also seen a significant decrease in coal severance tax returns and that a raise now could jeopardize county employees’ jobs if revenues continue to decline.
“The money we have now will have to last until June 30 (2011),” said Hampton. “I can’t recommend a raise right now, but I will be glad to look (at revenues) again in January.”
Hampton said a 25-cent raise now could actually amount to a 37.5 cent raise by January because of the weather-related overtime county employees often work. District Four Magistrate Keith Adams, quoting figures supplied by Hampton, said the raise would add approximately $79,000 to the budget which went into effect July 1. Ward added that the $1-per-hour raise Lucas had originally requested would add approximately $315,000 to the budget.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming proposed the 25-cent-per-hour raise at the court’s July meeting with the possibility of an additional 25 cents in January. However, Hampton was not present and fiscal court members decided to take the matter into consideration when they got their figures in order.
Ward reminded Lucas that county employees had received a two-percent raise in the budget for Fiscal Year 2010-2011. He said that out of a county budget of $8.5 million, $4,396,182 goes to county employees’ salaries and benefits. Ward added that the court has already received almost $850,000 less than it received last year at this time. Ward said he would like to be able to give county employees an additional raise, but is afraid that layoff s would be the result.
Magistrate Fleming said while he agrees that the court cannot afford a raise now, he feels that it should do everything in its power to provide one in January, even if it means cutting back on other programs. Later in the meeting, Fleming asked if each magistrate would be willing to sacrifice $20,000 of funds allocated for paving in their respective districts to allow for a raise, but Ward replied that the paving funds that come from the state are specifically earmarked for paving and cannot be used for other matters.
Ward told Lucas he would make sure Hampton goes over the balance sheets again in January to determine if it is possible to give county hourly workers a raise. Lucas then restated his demand for an apology.
“I’m standing here waiting for my apology and for my brother-in-law,” said Lucas.
Banks said he would not offer an apology to either Lucas or Austin and repeated that all he had said to Austin was that he was not a part of the conversation.
“You’re pitiful Archie, if that’s your answer,” replied Lucas. “We didn’t get a raise. Make that noted.”
“You got a pay raise,” replied Ward. “You just didn’t get what you wanted.”
Lucas then asked Ward if he would offer an apology, but Ward replied that he hadn’t said anything out of line to either Lucas or Austin.
In other business, Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers told the court that while there has been some slight improvement in radio service, the pagers tied to the county system are still not working properly. Judge Ward replied that he had called in another company to see if it could come up with a solution. Rogers also complained about the railroad crossing on Highway 15 at Isom, which he said had caused damage to several of Letcher’s ambulances. Ward said he had spoken with State Department of Highways Supervisor Billy Smallwood and the District Engineer, but Rogers said the railroad had refused to allow the state to replace the crossing. Ward said he would try to resolve the situation and the court voted unanimously to send letters to the DOH and to CSX Railroad about the crossing.
Randall Caudill, who has the county contract for radio and pager communications, told the court that part of the problem is with radios in fire trucks and in some ambulances and other county vehicles. Caudill said that the 25-watt radios aren’t strong enough to get the signal to repeaters where they will be “bounced off ” to message recipients, and recommended that county upgrade to 45-watt radios. He said it would a cost about $30,000, which he said “shouldn’t be hard to come up with.”
“That’s what the employees wanted,” replied Third District Magistrate Codell Gibson. “We couldn’t help them.”
“911 should be important,” replied Caudill.
“So are our employees,” said Gibson.
Rogers told the court that the pagers hadn’t worked all weekend and that even when they were working, there might be five EMTs or volunteer firemen at the fire house and two would get a page while the other three would not. Caudill replied that he couldn’t work on pagers if nobody called him and added that if the court wants somebody else to work on pagers it should bid it out.
The court also voted unanimously to accept a bid from Kentucky Election Services for new voting machines for $139,060. Judge Ward said the state has designated $139,000 in funding for new machines and the county will make up the additional $60.
The court also voted to name the following roads and bridges for Letcher County veterans:
Bulldog Drive for Corporal Carl D. Adams; Klenco Road for Tech Sergeant Arnold Bolling (World War II); Fleming-Neon Road KY 343 for Sergeant Darrell P Wright (U.S.AF) Vietnam War Memorial Road; bridge at Jenkins IGA for FCO First Class James H. Shelby (U.S. Navy World War II – Korea); Whitesburg Main Street Bridge for Seaman First Class Lloyd Brown (U.S. Navy – World War II); first bridge at Thornton Road for Tech Sergeant Luther J. Lucas; bridge in Whitesburg at old Boone Motors Building for Seaman First Class Maynard Hogg (U.S. Navy – World War II); bridge at 3409 Tom Biggs Hollow for Corporal Cliff ord “Coopie” Collins (U.S. Army); bridge at Neon Post Office for Specialist 4 Robert “Bug” Smith Jr. (U.S. Army); bridge on Route 7 near Loves Branch for Captain Robert Bates (U.S. Civil War); bridge at Kingscreek Park on Hwy. 160 for Specialist Travis E. Roark.
The court also voted to dedicate Lilley Cornett Road to the Whitaker family.
The court voted to allow the Letcher County Tourism Commission to pay the following expenditures from funds already allocated and in place in the Tourism budget:
$1,000 for promotional money to Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts Council; $1,000 for promotional money to Letcher County Mud Runners; $1,000 for promotional money to Neon Days; $1,000 for promotional money for Pine Mountain Co-op; $3,650 for final payment on the Letcher County Promotional Video (reimbursed through an Appalachian Regional Commission mini-grant); $1,035.97 to Jeff Mullins Distribution for rack cards promoting Letcher County tourism and for Frances Gary Powers Event promotion and Letcher County 2010 event and tourism schedules.
The Tourism Commission also requested to spend $7,500 to provide a full color “coff ee table book” promoting Letcher County historical and natural landmarks, with an initial 1,000 copies printed and 300 copies bound.
Natural landmarks include: Pine Mountain; Scuttlehole Gap; Lilley Cornett Woods; Little Shepherd Trail; Bad Branch Falls; Raven’s Rock; Fishpond Lake; Linefork Cave and Falls; Headwaters of three rivers (Cumberland, Big Sandy, Kentucky Rivers); Pound Gap; and the Bull Hole.
Architectural landmarks include: Site of Daniel Boone Tree – Kona, 1781; Indian Bottom Church, Letcher; John Adams Grave, Mayking; Eolia Cabin on Underground Railroad; Boggs Cabin – Eolia; Maggard Old Regular Baptist Church – Eolia; Johnny Tolliver Cabin – Millstone; Thornton Old Regular Baptist Church; Bert Banks Barn – Cowan; Presley Branch Cabin – Flat Gap; Big Cowan Regular Baptist Church; Ned Rock House – Pine Mountain; Banks Cabin – Cowan; Ingram’s Cabin – Linefork; Christine Cornett Cabin – Linefork; Israel Adams – Millstone; Bill Ison Farm – Kingdom Come; Ison House – Linefork; Ison Barn – Linefork; Ira Fields House – Whitesburg; Day House – Whitesburg; Logan Salyers House – Whitesburg; Leroy Wilson Fields House – Whitesburg; James Memorial Church – Carcassonne; Bates House – Millstone; Whitesburg Methodist Church; Caudill House – Mayking; Urais Webb House – Mayking; Doty Creek School; Stuart Robinson School – Letcher; Camp Branch Methodist Episcopal Church South; Frances Gary Powers House – Burdine; Zegeer Rail and Coal Museum – Jenkins; Old Jenkins High School; Lewis Wholesale Building – Whitesburg; Double Occupancy Coal Company House;
Dunham Freewill Baptist Church; Doty Creek Old Regular Baptist Church; Bank of Whitesburg; Doermann Memorial Presbyterian Church – Blackey; Blackey Hospital; McRoberts Missionary Baptist Church; W.E. Cook Building – Whitesburg; Manager’s House – McRoberts; Manager’s Lakeside Residence – Jenkins; Jenkins Methodist Church; St. George Catholic Church – Jenkins; Jenkins Woman’s Club; Jenkins Bakery; J.D. Maggard Store – Eolia; J.H. Frazier Building – Whitesburg; Fields Building – Whitesburg; SECO Store; Daniel Boone Hotel – Whitesburg; Palumbo House – Whitesburg; Fields House – Whitesburg; Wesley Wright House – Neon; Halcolmb House – Linefork; Webb House – Whitesburg; Wooden Coal Tipple – Thornton; Dr. D.V. Bentley House – Neon; Day Blacksmith Shop – Cowan; Oven Fork Mercantile; Kings Post Bridge – Mayking; Eagle’s Nest – Mayking; Carcassonne Community Center; Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church – Whitesburg; Rockvine Church – Partridge; C.B. Caudill Store – Blackey; Mayking School; Upper Bottom Bridge – Whitesburg; Neon Junction; Asher’s Custard Stand (film site for “Coal Miner’s Daughter”); McRoberts World War II Memorial; S.H. Taylor House; Akers House – Jackhorn; Dawahare Building – Neon; Jenkins Christian Church.
Lost landmarks: Historic Main Street – Whitesburg; Historic Main Street – Jenkins; Champion Store (Old Consol Commissary) – Jenkins; Downtown Neon; Letcher County Courthouse; Pine Mountain Hotel; Kingdom Come Settlement School.