Budget issues and late tax bills from the state Department of Revenue have created controversy for outgoing Sheriff Danny Webb and incoming Sheriff Mickey Stines, and left the county with no road deputies until sometime after Stines takes over January 7.
Webb laid off all of his road deputies on December 13, after the state Revenue Cabinet told him it would not be sending out mineral tax bills this year as planned, instead deferring the mailing of the tax bills until January.
One deputy, Sgt. Alisha Congleton, to whom Webb awarded a commendation for meritorious service in November, claimed in a Facebook post that the layoffs were politically motivated to get rid of her so incoming sheriff Mickey Stines wouldn’t have to when he takes office. She was a vocal supporter of Capt. Barry Engle in the sheriff ’s election.
She cited what she said were $13,000 in bonuses given staff in December as evidence Webb could have kept them on, but Webb said the payments weren’t bonuses, but were supplemental pay to make up for pay deputies missed earlier in the year when they had to be furloughed to allow the department to make budget. Public agencies cannot give bonuses, but Webb said supplemental pay was deemed legal by a state auditor.
“The state auditor was sitting right here when we did it,” Webb said.
In a Facebook post of his own, Webb said he is “forever grateful” that deputies voluntarily took furlough to reduce payroll when the department didn’t have money coming in, and when the tax money started flowing he was able to make up the money they lost.
“This action in no way was the cause of layoffs in the Department for the last two weeks of December. We were informed last month that oil and gas taxes and un-mined mineral taxes would not be sent out by Frankfort until January 2019. My budget for this year was depending on my collection of this money, so that was the cause of layoffs,” Webb wrote.
“I want to assure you, the citizens of Letcher County, that this was no political move and that it has caused me great heartache to have to let people go that have worked so hard with me.“
A decline in tax revenues and moves by the fiscal court to stop paying hazardous duty retirement and health insurance premiums for the sheriff ’s department had already caused deep cuts in the department. The sheriff ’s office stopped having 24-hour dispatchers more than two years ago because of the cuts, causing the office to close at 4 p.m. It had to make additional cuts in 2017 after unmined coal assessments by the state of Kentucky dropped by 85 percent. The outgoing fiscal court voted in its last meeting to restore the retirement and insurance premiums to the sheriff ’s department, but incoming Judge/Executive Terry Adams said some of the expenses approved by the court might have to be revisited in January. He did not specify which expenses he might want to cut.
Asked about the layoffs and social media posts, Stines praised Webb for the way he has handled the budget.
“Sheriff Webb for the past 16 years has done an excellent job with the resources and the budget he’s had,” Stines said. “I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but the people of Letcher County had the confidence to elect me to fill those shoes, and I’m ready to be the sheriff for the people for the next four years.”
Stines wouldn’t answer Congleton’s statement about political motivations directly, but said, “Whether you were for me or against me, if you need me, I’ll be there.”
Engle, who was among those laid off Dec. 13, said he volunteered to finish organizing equipment and evidence so it would be ready for Stines when he takes office. Engle lost to Stines in the November election. Engle was not sure what he will be doing in the coming year.
Deputy Sheriff Eugene Slone, who lost to Stines in the primary election, said he is retiring. Slone had served for Webb’s entire 16 years, and for several years under Sheriff Steve Banks. Slone said while he worked long enough to retire, he was just short of full retirement because the hazardous duty system was not available when he first started working. He said health issues made him decide not to finish out the time needed for full retirement.
Deputy Sidney Fields, who also received commendations in November for meritorious service and for military service, said earlier that he would not be returning to the sheriff ’s department in January either, and he plans to go back to school.