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State auditor says local governments can’t give cash or food as bonuses

With Christmas less than two weeks away, local governments and agencies may soon hear a big “bahhumbug” from Frankfort.

Public agencies that have for years given Christmas bonuses or holiday hams and turkeys aren’t legally allowed to do so, according to the Kentucky State Auditor’s office.

The issue came up last year in a special audit of the city of Whitesburg, and in 2016 in an audit of the city of Irvine. Michael Goins, communications director for Kentucky State Auditor Mike Harmon, said while he couldn’t speak about individual agencies, the state Constitution is clear that any bonuses above an employee’s regular compensation are illegal.

“Section 3 of the Kentucky Constitution prohibits that,” Goins said.

The audit of the City of Whitesburg said gift cards the city gave to employees for turkeys and hams were not allowed, and said “gifts to unpaid employees do not appear to be a necessary and reasonable use of public funds.” That would appear to include Christmas turkeys given to volunteer firefighters.

The issue came up again after readers called The Mountain Eagle in the past week after a story saying the City of Jenkins plans to give $25 gift cards to its employees to buy hams or turkeys.

Mayor Todd Depriest said someone mentioned that to him “a couple of years ago,” but he had heard nothing about it since, and every mayor he could remember has done the same thing.

“There’s stuff you can do that doesn’t sound right, and things that sound right that you can’t do,” he said.

The audits do not make it clear whether the same law applies to other agencies, however the Letcher County Library District stopped giving bonuses for employees who achieved a higher level of certification based on an auditor’s advice.

The Letcher County Water District still gives bonuses, voting this year to pay employees Christmas bonuses of $500 each.

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