Letcher County’s new fiscal court got off to an uncomfortable start Tuesday night, with a special called meeting to take away money and benefits the previous court gave employees and departments in December.
Judge/Executive Terry Adams said the previous court’s action had left this one no choice but to revisit every action it took last month.
“It was just an attempt to put the new court in a hard place,” Adams said before the meeting. “They knew it couldn’t be kept like that.”
Among the items on the agenda was a repeal of the vote to pay retirement and health insurance premiums for the sheriff ’s department, something the previous court had done to former Sheriff Danny Webb, but then restored in December for incoming Sheriff Mickey Stines.
The move would have cost the county $197,512 a year, according to estimates prepared by the county treasurer, not including increases expected on July 1.
“The court voted to do that without figuring that into the budget,” Adams said.
Stines addressed the court and said not having hazardous duty pay would hurt his ability to attract good deputies, but said, “If the money’s not there, it’s not there.”
He said the department will “make do with what we have and do the best we can to serve the people.” He did ask that the court give the department some money to keep going until taxes come in.
Adams asked the court to loan money to sheriff ’s department to allow it to meet its obligations until tax money begins coming in.
“The sheriff ’s department starts with an empty bank account,” he said.
Magistrates voted unanimously to rescind the last court’s vote, but to loan Stines’s department $20,000. He said the sheriff ’s office will repay that money when it has collected enough taxes to do so. He said he has also applied for a no-interest loan from the state.
Perhaps the most difficult vote for the court was to take away raises the previous judge and magistrates promised to approximately 90 to 100 county employees.
The court voted in December to give all employees a $2-per-hour pay increase. The $2 raise would cost the county an estimated $431,354, county treasurer D.J. Frazier said.
“What they get paid now is not enough, but I’m sure they’d rather have their jobs than for us to start paying out all these expenses and then two months down the road have to lay them off,” Frazier said.
Frazier said her estimate is based only on a 40-hour work week, workers compensation, unemployment insurance and retirement. She said it did not include accrued vacation time or overtime.
“Everyone who sits on this fiscal court appreciates the county workers,” Adams said, directing his comments to the gallery, packed with county workers, officials and others. But, he said, the county can’t afford the spend that much money that is not in the budget. Adams asked the court to rescind the $2 raise.
There was a pause while magistrates waited for a motion.
District 3 Magistrate Maverick Cook finally made the motion to take back the raise, and District 1 Magistrate Jack Banks seconded it. When the clerk called for the vote, District 4 Magistrate Cheddy Smith hesitated, asking if the action to be revisited again later. County Attorney Jamie Hatton told him any decision can be revisited at any time.
“I’ve had a hard time with this. I worked with you all,” Smith told the workers.
Smith, who started working for the county as a truck driver under the Watts administration in the 1990s, retired last year as county road foreman.
“After looking at everything, I have to vote yes,” he said.
District 5 Magistrate Bennie McCall also hesitated, saying he had visited with the road department the day before and also wanted to revisit the issue later. McCall said after the meeting that he had bought sausage biscuits and took them to the road department Monday morning and talked to the employees about the need to rescind the raise.
The court voted unanimously to take back the $2 raise.
Immediately after the vote, Adams asked the court toapprovea2percentraise for all employees, excluding elected officials. Again, the court voted unanimously to approve the raise.
The court also voted unanimously to rescind the gifting of three Chevrolet Tahoes to the sheriff ’s department and coroner. Adams said he would like to give a new vehicle to the coroner and a four-wheeldrive vehicle to the sheriff ’s department, but the court would not have to vote on it. The previous court voted to give one Tahoe to the sheriff ’s department and two to the coroner.
Other items on the agenda included rescinding the vote to pay the power bills for all of the community centers in the county, and taking away the expenses for constables approved by the previous court. The court approved both measures unanimously, and voted to increase constable salaries by $100 a month. The expenses, Frazier said, would have cost the county more than $40,000, not including the cost for insurance on whatever cars the constables choose to drive. The plan the previous court approved would have had the county lease cars from the constables, pay for the licenses and insurance, plus pay them $200 a month in expenses.
An estimate Frazier gave the court put the total cost of items approved by the previous court in December at $711,777.53, not including increases in health insurance premiums, employee overtime, increases in retirement costs, and insurance on constables’ cars.
“What the old fiscal court did, all totaled up, was about $1 million,” Adams said.
The court also hired and set salaries for new administrative staff and rehired county the administrative staff members who were kept on. Administrative staff, titles and salaries approved were:
• Jason Back, deputy judge/road foreman, $48,500.
• Stacie Collie, executive secretary, $25,000
• Virginia Sandusky, county finance officer, $25,700
• Jim Reevis, 911 coordinator, $41,941.59
• Paul Miles, emergency management director, $20,993.70
• Mike Gover, sanitation coordinator, $25,000
• Bobbi Eldridge, sanitation billing clerk, $25,000
• Richard Brown, parks and recreation director, $25,000
• Derek Barto, part-time parks and recreation assistant director, $12,500