By Greg Bird
Transport Officers will now have a new pay scale when transporting prisoners to jail after the McCreary County Fiscal Court voted Thursday night to approve a new proposal reflecting a shorter drive to the Knox County Detention Center.
The issue was first broached a few months ago when Magistrate Roger Phillips requested the court look at adjusting pay for the transports after agreeing to a contract to house inmates about one hour closer than they had been previously.
The officers were paid $55 for each transport previously, reflecting four hours at $13.75 per hour. The trip to Leslie County, where prisoners previously had been housed, took about four hours round trip.
Now, with housing at Knox County, Phillips asked to re-examine the pay, noting the facility is about an hour closer and the Magistrate noted the county could potentially save money.
Last month Magistrate Bill Hale introduced the possibility of paying the officers a rate of $45 per transport, or $45 for each time they execute a bond, rather than transport a prisoner to jail.
That rate was formally presented as an item on the agenda Thursday, with the Fiscal Court voting to approve the new pay with a 5-0 vote.
Prior to the vote Magistrate Phillips noted he felt the pay rate could have been even lower, but would accept the proposal to see how it would work.
“This is more than I would have wanted, but will settle for it,” Phillips said.
Phillips also reiterated that any time a transport legitimately took longer than three hours, the officers would be paid for their time.
“If they do have more than three hours (on a transport) I think we’d agree to compensate them,” he added.
Magistrate Randy Maxwell said he approved of the new pay since it incentivizes the officers to take bonds rather than transport, which would save the county money on housing costs.
“Our goal is to get families closer and save on bonding,” Maxwell said.
The new rate still includes a minimum wage rate for officers who have to transport prisoners and guard while inmates are at the hospital.
Prior to the meeting Judge Greene had reached out to other Judge Executives in counties that also utilize transport officers to find out what pay rate they use. The responses he received ranged from an hourly rate of $8 to $15, or per-trip rates of $35 to $65.
In other actions Thursday night the Fiscal Court approved the first reading of the 2020-21 County budget. The first draft, which will undoubtedly be changed before a second reading is approved some time next month, closely resembles the budget passed last year, but the court acknowledged they will have to look closely at it to see where changes could be made in light of expected drops in revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to see where we can cut a little more,” Phillips said. “We owe it to them (the citizens) to cut back where we can.”
Judge Jimmie Greene agreed, noting: “We need to look at being conservative.”
When discussing potential cuts in funding Magistrate Phillips noted the $6,600 the county allocates to the Lake Cumberland Drug Task Force. In previous years Phillips had asked the task force to provide at least quarterly reports on their efforts in the county to justify the additional expense. A few years ago the Fiscal Court approved a motion requesting updates when they agreed to continue the funding. That request had not been filled.
Another expected loss in funding was confirmed when the court approved new County Road Aid Cooperative Program agreements with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for road funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The court originally passed the agreements in February, but the COVID-19 Pandemic has drastically decreased gas tax funds, prompting the KTC to re-evaluate the allocation of funding to the counties reflecting the new revenue.
The new agreements reflect approximately $167,000 less in funding for the Road Department in the coming year, limiting the amount of road work they will be able to perform.
Judge Greene noted the McCreary County Courthouse will remain closed to public access through at least June 1. The facility was closed last month due to the Governor’s orders, with only essential personnel allowed inside.
Governor Beshear has lifted most of the restrictions on government buildings as of this week, but after a meeting with elected officials last week it was decided to keep the closure in place for two more weeks.
Judge Greene stated the Court Clerk and PVA office – both offices under state direction – were still under orders to be closed through the end of the month. The Judge Executive and County Clerks office have remained open, with courthouse security officers meeting citizens at the front door and acting as liaisons between them and the offices.
Ambulance Service/911 Director Jimmy Barnett requested approval of a salary adjustment for employees who worked during the COVID-19 outbreak. Barnett stated he had applied for a grant through the CARES act and was awarded $65,000. Of that $54,000 will go toward employees, $1,000 each, and the remainder will go for equipment.
Barnett added he has applied for additional funding through the program that will go toward replacing lost revenue through the COVID-19 crisis.
The next regular scheduled meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court will be on Thursday, June 11 at 6:00 p.m. It is unclear at this time if the meeting will be open to the public, or will continue to be live streamed over the internet due to COVID-19 restrictions.