After voting recently to lay off county workers, close senior citizens centers and shut down the county’s recycling center, the Letcher Fiscal Court voted this week to reinstate a monthly expense account that could net magistrates an additional $3,600 to yearly pay.
By a vote of three to two at its January meeting, the court reinstated a mileage expense reimbursement program that will pay each magistrate who chooses to accept it a maximum of $300 a month.
The issue was raised near the close of Monday night’s meeting by District Four Magistrate Keith Adams, who made the motion to reinstate the district travel expenses that was discontinued at a special called meeting in November of 2015 as a money-saving measure. District One Magistrate Bobby Howard seconded the motion, saying he felt that he was entitled to be reimbursed for the mileage he accumulated in doing his job as magistrate. Howard said that without the expense checks the county’s five magistrates would not do the jobs they were voted into office for and would “run Chetty (County Road Foreman Chester Smith) to death.”
District Three Magistrate Woody Holbrook also voted to reinstate the expense account. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming and District Two Magistrate Terry Adams voted against the measure. Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward abstained from voting.
Fleming asked Keith Adams if he was talking about the $300 per month mileage and a maximum amount of $3,942 some of the magistrates get each year to attend training programs held elsewhere in the state.
“When you run for office you know what your salary is,” said Fleming.”I don’t think this is the right time.”
“I think it’s fair that we get it,” replied Keith Adams. He added that he and Howard have the two largest districts and that it takes a lot of mileage to cover them. Terry Adams asked Ward if the budget cuts and layoffs that occurred at the end of the year had added any money to the county government’s budget and Ward answered, “Not a lot.” Terry Adams then said that he agreed with Fleming about the timing.
“We got elected to do this job for the people,” said Terry Adams. “I don’t see it (reinstating the expenses)”.
“Have you took it, Terry?” replied Keith Adams. “Have you took it, Wayne?”
Both Terry Adams and Fleming said they had taken the expenses in the past, but Fleming added that he hadn’t accepted reimbursement for his mileage expenses for the past six to eight months, and that with people being laid off, he doesn’t think it is the right time to start taking it again. Fleming later told The Mountain Eagle he had checked when he got home and that he hadn’t taken mileage expenses since at least as far back as October 2014.
“I feel bad that we have people laid off,” said Fleming. “If we were doing well, I wouldn’t have a problem.”
“I can’t see taking extra expenses and laying people off,” said Terry Adams.
“I’m not taking it,” said Keith Adams. “It was offered.”
Ward said he abstained from voting to stop the reinstatement of the expense account because the expense account doesn’t affect him. Terry Adams asked Ward if abstaining isn’t the same as voting with the majority and Ward replied that he isn’t affected by the vote and that he had been a magistrate (he is a former District One magistrate) and knows how much travel is involved.
Each of the county’s five magistrates earns a base salary of $22,479.76 per year — an amount equal to about $10.50 per hour for a 40-hour workweek. Depending on how long they have been in office, magistrates may receive up to an additional $3,941 per year to attend 40 hours of training in Lexington, Louisville or Frankfort.
Under state law (KRS 64.530), magistrates in Kentucky may receive up to $300 in expense pay per month “for serving on committees of the fiscal court.” While it was not made clear during the meeting whether the magistrates already receive that $300 per month “committee meeting” expense in addition to the $300 per month for mileage, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that state law bars expense accounts for magistrates in addition to that allowed for “serving on committees.”
The mileage reimbursement approved Monday night is for a maximum of $300 per month. Mileage must be recorded and turned in by each magistrate if he claims it. It is intended for in-district travel for magistrates checking roads and other problems in their districts.