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Fiscal Court gets earful on transport pay

By Greg Bird

Last week’s regular meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court mainly tackled routine business such as paying the bills and approving budget amendments.
It was only near the end, when the citizen participation portion of the meeting came up on the agenda, when things started to heat up.
Stephanie King, a McCreary County Transport Officer, confronted Magistrate Roger Phillips over his comments last month recommending the Fiscal Court reconsider how much they pay Transport Officers with the new arrangement of housing prisoners at Knox County.
Last month Phillips questioned the need to keep the current pay rate for the officers with the moving of prisoners to the new facility, noting the transport time would be an hour less than similar runs to Leslie County.
Currently transport officers are paid $54 for each trip to a jail facility. The rate is calculated at $13.50 per hour for a four-hour shift. The officers are also paid for two hours of work if they come in and take a bond payment from a prisoner, alleviating the need for a transport.
Phillips stated he felt the new location would shave off at least an hour from each trip, prompting the need to look at reworking the pay schedule. “If we change (jails), we need to look at a change (in pay),” Phillips said last month. “I can’t see paying them four hours for three hours of work.”
With the new arrangement, Phillips said he would be proposing lowering the pay to three hours, or $40.50 for such trips.
King, who attended the meeting with two of her fellow officers, said Phillips’ proposal would financially harm Transport Officers, and would be unfair as it fails to take in to account their travel time from home when dispatched to pick up a prisoner.
She noted one instance where she was called to pick up a prisoner, then waited for a couple hours – without additional pay – as she waited for another prisoner in custody to be ready for transport. In effect, King transported two prisoners in one trip – saving the county money overall, but was not compensated for her extra time.
Phillips said he didn’t have a problem with paying for extra time in situations like that, but said he felt the officers were not taking the time to allow prisoners to bond out when possible, which would also save money.
“The information we have received is the transport officers are not taking enough bonds,” he said.
Phillips stated he heard the information from fellow Magistrate Bill Hale, who had spoken with Circuit Court Clerk Othel King about the issue. King stated this week he did not say that, but rather noted the officers don’t get paid enough to wait for the prisoners to find the money to post bond at the time of arrest.
King stated the officers do try to take bonds whenever possible, but could not collect a bond when the prisoner had no money and could not find anyone to help pay for it.
King also said Phillips had not questioned the full $54 pay for officers when they transport prisoners to other facilities, such as Pulaski or Whitley County over the past few years. Ironically, immediately following the Fiscal Court meeting a transport officer did conduct a transport to Whitley County.
Judge Greene ended the conversation noting the Fiscal Court would look at the issue and discuss it next month.

In other Fiscal Court actions Thursday:
Magistrate Phillips, who sits on the 109 Board, made a motion to name Stephen McKinney as Solid Waste Coordinator and giving him authorization to issue citations against citizens with illegally disposing of trash on their property, such as burning plastics or keeping unsightly trash piles.
Phillips said he was against the mandatory collection clause in the ordinance for “people who dispose of trash in the right way,” he said.
The Magistrate and Judge Greene got in to a slightly heated discussion over the proposal, with the Judge claiming McKinney was performing his duties as Code Enforcement Officer, and has already prosecuted a dozen individuals for illegal dumping.
Phillips countered saying 12 cases were not enough, and he would like to see McKinney write tickets at a much higher rate. When it was noted McKinney had agreed to the proposal at the last 109 Board meeting, the discussion ended and the vote passed unanimously.
McKinney was named Code Enforcement Officer by the Fiscal Court last April. At that time the duties for the post were to focus on cleaning up illegal dump sites and encouraging citizens to sign up for garbage service. Judge Greene stated he did not anticipate issuing any fines for non-compliance, but would rely on using polite, non-threatening phone calls and letters to increase participation.
During last year’s meeting where the position was created Greene had stated he felt the Court should create the position, but stopped short of using the officer to go after citizens in non-compliance with the garbage ordinance and other county ordinances. At that time the Fiscal Court voted 4-1 in favor of creating the position, with Phillips being the only dissenting vote.
In a related note Judge Greene announced the county would be hosting another free bulk-item drop off at the Transfer Station in Stearns on April 17 and 18 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The drop-of is free to all residents who are currently signed up for garbage service with Scott Solid Waste.

The next meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court is scheduled for Thursday, April 9 at 6:00 p.m.

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