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Emotions flare over county raises

By Eugenia Jones

During Thursday’s (8-11-2022) regular meeting of the McCreary County Fiscal Court, McCreary County Magistrate Bill Hale (District 1) stood his ground, casting the sole vote against a proposal designed to grant raises based on length of service to all non-elected county employees.

“Can we sustain this?” Bill Hale Magistrate (District 1)

“First, I want everyone to understand I’m not against county employees getting raises,” Magistrate Hale said during the meeting.  “I have supported every raise for county employees over the past three years.”

“I was flabbergasted to see what people make who have worked here after ten years.  I understand the problem.” Hale said later in the meeting.  “However, what I have to sleep with at night, is whether or not we can pay for this (raises) and keep paying them long term.  Can we sustain this?”

The salary schedule proposal, which was ultimately approved by a vote of 3-1 during Thursday night’s meeting, established hourly pay increases based on the number of years employees have worked for county government.  Conservatively estimated, the revised salary schedule is expected to cost approximately $338,000 for the 2022/23 fiscal year beginning with the next pay period.  The new salary schedule reflects employees receiving pay increases of .50 cents per hour upon completion of one year of service and again after completion of two years of service.  A third pay increase of .50 cents per hour is granted with completion of five years of county service.  With ten years of employment, employees receive a pay increase of $1.00 per hour.  Employees receive an additional pay increase of .50 cents per hour at the fifteen year mark and another $1.00 per hour raise at year twenty.  Under the new salary schedule, an employee with twenty years of service in county government earns $4.00 per hour more than a newly hired employee.  The pay increases go into effect during the next pay period when all employees will receive cumulative raises calculated on past time served.  Following that initial pay increase, additional raises will be granted as future “anniversary” dates are met.  (e.g.  An employee with 14 1/2 years of experience will receive an initial raise of $2.50 (total of years 1, 2, 5, and 10 service increases) per hour during their next pay period and then another .50 raise per hour at the 15 year mark.) 

McCreary County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Director Jimmy Barnett asked the Fiscal Court to support the new salary schedule.

“I brought this up to Fiscal Court a few months ago,” Barnett said in addressing the Court.  “If I hire someone tomorrow, they will make the same as someone with twenty years of experience.  I don’t think it is fair.  Everyone has a deal where long-term, valued employees get paid more.”    

Magistrate Bobby Strunk spoke up in support of the proposal.

“We’ve got a dispatcher making $10.62 per hour,” Strunk noted.  “They can go to a restaurant and make that amount.  When I call for an ambulance, I want someone who is qualified.  I think it is needed.”

Magistrate Strunk later told The Voice by phone that the county has carried over $1 million in ARPA funding.

“The county is also growing,” Strunk remarked.  “We have businesses opening up that will produce more labor and occupation tax.  I don’t see a tax hike in the future.”

Magistrate Hale questioned the validity of calculating the projected total cost for this year’s pay increases at $338,000.  Hale noted the $338,000 figure might be the correct amount for the raises that will be given currently (beginning next pay period) but does not take into account the pay increases that will be given in the remaining months of the 2022/23 fiscal year as employees get additional raises for meeting their next “anniversary” milestone.

“I really don’t think the County can afford it,” Hale said to County Finance Director Randy Jones.  “It is projected to cost $338,000 this year.  However, I know it will be higher.  If you all vote this raise in tonight and give the raise, then we’ve got multiple people over the next six months who will get another raise because of their experience.  If you see the number of people on that list who are going to get $2.00, $3.00, and $4.00 per hour pay increases in the next pay period, it’s a substantial increase in our budget.  We have money now, because we put some money back.  Once that money is absorbed over the next three to four years, I don’t know how we are going to fix it.” 

Finance Officer Jones agreed with Hale about his concern, noting it will take a team effort.

“It will take teamwork and ideas,” County Finance Officer responded.  “However, if you lose your good people, it will cost more.”

 “I have a hard time saying I’m going to pass something, that in my opinion, is going to cost $400, 000,” Hale declared emphatically.  “Then in three or four years, we turn around and want to raise occupation tax, property tax, whatever can be raised to meet the budget.  I have a problem with that.”

“I’m sorry,” Hale told the Court.  “I just can’t do it at this time.  Not until we get exact numbers and do some more math to get a true number.”

Hale explained further.

“I don’t have a problem raising taxes if inflation causes us to raise taxes because inflation is out of my control,” Hale explained.  “I don’t have a problem if gas goes to $6.00 a gallon, and we have to raise taxes because I have no control over the price of gas.  I do have control over giving a bunch of people $2.00, $3.00, and $4.00 per hour raises, and then when we can’t sustain it, we raise taxes.”

EMS Director Barnett noted the people getting raises are county employees.

“I think it is a magistrate’s job to take care of County employees,” Barnett observed.  “They go to work every morning working for the County, just like I do.”

“I agree 100%, I respect that,” Hale shot back before issuing a challenge.  “Tell me tonight how to sustain this proposal and I’ll vote “yes” on it.”

Magistrate Hale noted there is a difference between “having to do something” and “trying to do something with the amount of money available.” Hale summed up his position best by saying he hopes he is proven wrong and that, if approved, the new salary schedule is sustainable over the long term.  However, he left no doubt about his intentions if a future increase in taxes becomes necessary to sustain the salary schedule.

“You guys want to make a motion, second, and pass it, I have no problem,” Hale declared.  “But I’m telling everybody right now.  If I’m alive and sitting in this chair three years from now, I will vote “no” to raising taxes to sustain this raise.  The people who vote for this tonight will need to vote “yes” to raising taxes (later) to sustain it.”

Looking directly at Finance Director Jones, Hale continued.

“You know in your heart, that’s coming.”

Jones responded, “I know it’s coming whether we do this or not.” 

Finance Officer Jones later noted he has each department in county government looking for ways to cut costs to assist in sustaining the pay increases.

Under the new salary schedule, Judge Executive Jimmie “Bevo” Greene noted there must be belt-tightening, and overtime needs to decrease.

“We will have to watch our budget, cut the overtime,” Judge Greene said. “We’ll have to cut down on some other things as well.”

Greene explained to The Voice that overtime pay is expected to decrease since much of the previous year’s overtime work was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are looking at everything we can do to save dollars,” Green commented.  “However, we must continue providing the best services for our citizens.  That’s what we are here for.”

Judge Greene also noted that while county employees may not have the best pay, they do receive insurance at no cost and several holidays and paid days off.

“You’ve got to equate all that in there,” Judge Greene said.  “You’ve got to weigh all factors.”

Ultimately, the proposed changes to the salary schedule allowing pay increases based on service time passed 3-1( in favor) with a motion from District 3 Magistrate Bobby Strunk, seconded by District 4 Magistrate Randy Maxwell.  Magistrate Bill Hale voted “nay” with Magistrates Strunk and Maxwell and Judge Executive Jimmie “Bevo” Greene voting “aye”.  Due to a back surgery, District 2 Magistrate Roger Phillips was absent from the meeting.  When contacted by phone, Magistrate Phillips stated he would have voted “no” to the proposal because, without additional revenue, he considers it unsustainable.  Magistrate Phillips noted he would have been open to considering a proposal which allowed for better planning and sustainability.

Fiscal Court meets

By Eugenia Jones

During their regular August meeting (8-11-22), Fiscal Court opened bids for municipal trash collection.  Scott Solid Waste, who provides current service in McCreary County, was the sole bidder.  The bid was tabled for a future meeting, giving Fiscal Court members time to study the bid proposal.

In other business, the Fiscal Court:

• Opened and tabled bids for two slope mowers, allowing time to verify bids.

•Lengthened William Baird and Tucker Roads (plus renamed Tucker Road to Hansford Lane). 

• Approved transfers within EMS and 911.

-Approved hiring Gregory Ray Smith as seasonal animal control/litter abatement employee.

• Approved current revolving loan application.

•Authorized Judge Greene to sign documentation for lease agreement with Don Franklin (for vehicle for ABC Administrator).

• Approved trade-in of 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe to Don Franklin, Somerset.  EM Director Stephen McKinney obtained a state grant to combine with the trade-in value, basically paying for the cost of an upgraded vehicle (2021).

Fiscal Court heard the following:

• EMS had 362 runs in July; 911 responded to 1,008 calls.

• Emergency Management received a grant to level sidewalks at the Courthouse.  The new sidewalks will help prevent accidental falls.  Director Stephen McKinney gathered 9 individuals to do community service.

• ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control)-McCreary County collected $8,771.31 in June.  Merchants collected $205,150.70.

• County Attorney Austin Price asked citizens to be careful driving as children return to school.

• Deputy Judge Nathan Nevels noted the County received a $200,000 grant to pay most of the cost for a hangar at the McCreary County Airport.  Also, the Porsche Car Club of America will host an event at the Airport on September 17.  Locals will be able to participate.

Regular meetings of the McCreary County Fiscal Court are held on the second Thursday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at the Courthouse.

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