EM pay sparks lively debate at fiscal court
Woodford Fiscal Court’s year-end meeting is typically a short one, a formality required by law and used to pay the bills and allow transfers of funds. Not so the court’s Wednesday morning meeting of Dec. 30, which featured a lengthy debate over pay for the county’s Emergency Management (EM) workers – and its director saying he might resign if the matter wasn’t settled soon. Magistrate Duncan Gardiner (Dist. 6) handed out sheets containing two pay scales for the court to consider: a staff rate, and a higher emergency services rate. Gardiner chairs the court’s personnel committee, and told the court it had not reached a unanimous decision. Magistrate Mary Ann Gill (Dist. 7) asked if it was possible to pay EM workers using the staff scale, and when they respond to an emergency situation, pay them at the emergency scale. (Both include years of experience as factors in the pay.) “I have no problem with it all being calculated at the emergency rate myself. We don’t ask the sheriff or the police to keep a time card and say, ‘Tiny, you collected taxes today. You weren’t out chasing bad guys with your lights and siren, but yet you get hazardous duty pay for that.’ It’s a position that they may get called out to a hazardous duty spill and have to respond to it, they may not ever have to. But there’s a chance that they could and … who knows what you’re going to walk in on. …” said Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle. “When you look at where we’ve come from and what we wind up with after all this time, calculating and meeting and deciding what we need to do with EM, I’m comfortable with paying the folks that are going to take these positions the emergency rate. Period.” Magistrate Gary Finnell (Dist. 3) asked how the pay of former EM director Keith Slugantz, who resigned in June and was a full-time employee, was determined. Personnel director Devetta Jackson said it didn’t fit on the scale and was “somewhere in between.” Finnell responded, “So all we’re trying to do is correct what’s been screwed up for 15 years?” Jackson said the committee had proposed scales like those used for other departments, and that only the county road engineer, sheriff and deputies, and ambulance personnel were paid emergency services rates. Magistrate Jackie Brown said, “I don’t know how I’m going to explain it to the other people – and we’ve got to watch our money …” Jackson responded that when the pay for part-time EM employees was established years ago, the scales were not applied. “So we’re really making a correction to what they probably should have been paid all along. And the one part-time deputy that we have … Keith used to call it a stipend, was because another department head had that role, and you all just bumped his salary a little bit for him to take on that role.” Gill said, “This is a new program, we’ve never done this part-time emergency management. We had to do it for fiscal reasons. Drew (director Drew Chandler) is confident it will work, but it’s not been proven yet. That being said, I would prefer to start 100 percent at the very top of the (staff) pay scale before it’s been proven. We can always revisit it. …” Gill said most of the work EM employees do is in their office. “I don’t know how many calls they go out on, but being called to a site on an actual emergency is not that common in EM. Mostly what they do is planning and mitigation and keeping us up to par on the KRS (Kentucky state law),” she said. Gill again suggested using the staff rate and, when EM employees visit a scene, paying those hours at the emergency services rate. Chandler asked to address the court. He said the county did have a part-time program between 1997 and 2008, when Slugantz became a full-time employee. “We do stand out by the side of the road with the sheriff. I was out last Wednesday night when those storms came through, and the tractor-trailer was blown into the median on the Blue Grass Parkway. That could have just as easily been me when I was out checking common areas for flash floods. I was out again Monday morning early during the rain checking flash-flood prone areas,” Chandler said. Chandler said the staff rate would cut his present hourly pay of $16.08 and that the difference between the two scales for a fully staffed department with four part-timers is $8,600 a year. “That’s not going to save the county’s whole budget. The quality and the caliber of person that we interview for our deputies’ positions yesterday afternoon – you’re not going to get that kind of people for 12 and 13 dollars per hour. And you’re talking about people who … act with the authority of the county judge when he signs the emergency declaration. … And on top of all that, we don’t receive any benefits as part-time employees. If anything, part-time employees would probably make a little bit higher gross pay because there are no benefits. “We’ve been at this for six months, and if Keith hadn’t left, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because the court approved a budget for us to move forward working with the two cities. I pledged to the judge that I would not leave the people of Woodford County hanging, in limbo – but I’m telling you what: I’m ready to hang up my hat and go the way Keith did if we can’t get this settled pretty soon. “It’s not fair to the people of Woodford County and it’s not fair to treat our employees as second-class, which is how we feel the last six months,” Chandler said. Brown reiterated that Chandler and others must understand that he has to answer to other county employees. “Our road department is on the side of the road, too. How can I vote for him when he just threatened us – if we don’t do it, he’s going to leave …?” Brown asked. “I feel frustration, you do, too, so do emergency management folks. It’s time to do something – decide. … We can sit here and cut bait all day. We’ve been cutting bait for six months. …” said Coyle. Magistrate Ken Reed (Dist. 4) asked whether there was any mention of pay during interviews for the EM positions the day before (Dec. 29). Coyle said half of the interviewees asked about it, and were told the court hoped to set that the following day. “That’s wrong,” Reed said. Gardiner said he felt comfortable paying the emergency services rate, and that the county would still be reducing its EM budget to about $100,000 – a $20,000 or so cut. “It’s like an insurance policy. If nothing goes wrong, then we’ve paid it and it’s a loss to the county. But if we have a serious emergency, I think it’s important that we have qualified people to be able to handle it. Nobody’s going to ask what the budget was if we have a disaster and it was handled poorly. …” Gardiner said. Gardiner made a motion to pay EM employees at the emergency services scale, and it passed 5 to 2, with Brown and Magistrate Linda Popp (Dist. 1) voting no. Magistrate Gerald Dotson (Dist. 5) was absent. “I’m glad to see we’ve quit cutting bait and finally went fishing,” Coyle said. Other matters In other action: The court unanimously approved: • A motion to sell a 2007 Ford Explorer that Sheriff Wayne Wright said sometimes won’t start to the Edmonson County Sheriff’s Department for $6,000. Wright said his Edmonson colleagues were told about the problem. • A resolution to accept a federal grant to pay most of the cost of a new 1.4 mile sidewalk on Huntertown Road. The county will split the rest of the cost with the city of Versailles, and could use county personnel and equipment as an in-kind contribution.