Inadequate pay in select departments of McCracken County government was the top issue for the fiscal court Monday night, as it debated the best path toward fairly compensating employees in the sheriff’s and clerk’s offices, as well as the jail.
Judge-Executive Craig Clymer bristled at perceived pushback from his constituents about recent attempts by the court to generate revenue that could make these raises possible.
“We’ve got to increase revenue if we’re going to pay people more. I keep hearing from people out in the community, ‘Let’s pay everybody more money but, by gosh, don’t raise any revenue, don’t raise taxes,’ ” he said. “It’s just a big ball of twine that you’ve got to get in and figure out how to equitably, fairly pay people that deserve more money.”
Pay at the sheriff’s office took up much of the court’s Aug. 10 meeting, as the court hopes to create a more stable and better compensated law enforcement agency alongside its jail and clerk’s office.
While the court is unanimously in favor of finding a way to give these employees a raise — especially those on the lower end of the pay scale — how to do it was the question.
Changes to the salary scale can’t be done just at the lowest level, Clymer reasoned, “because then those people that deserve to make more because they have some more experience and they’re better qualified and trained, they’re not treated appropriately because they’re not getting their part, as well.”
Commissioner Jeff Parker hopes the court can take the long view on the subject.
“I don’t think we can afford to do it all in one year or two years, but I do think that it’s an achievable goal to sit down and put our priorities in order and get it done over a four-year period,” he said.
When Clymer alluded to the court’s history of resisting revenue creation prior to his administration, Commissioner Bill Bartleman listed a number of revenue-generating attempts this court had made: implementing an insurance premium tax; levying an inventory tax for the first time in decades; and taking the optional 4% increase in property tax rate revenue, among others.
Bartleman wants to find a way to give these raises without going beyond taking the compensating tax rate.
“The residents have been hit hard by the COVID situation, many were unemployed a while or their revenue was down,” he said. “I think we’ve hit our taxpayers, our residents, pretty hard over the last few months in increased taxes and fees.”
Both Bartleman and Parker want to use some of the insurance premium tax money, which the county just started collecting in July, for these raises. It’s not known how much the tax will generate annually.
Commissioner Eddie Jones thinks the court should focus on “danger zones” and target key departmental positions in need of better compensation rather than making a bet on an unknown amount of revenue that has never been generated before in the county.
“I’m not willing to put that on a credit card,” Jones said. “We have to actually generate that income, and I feel like I’ve been elected to make the adult decision on finances.”
All of this could be moot for Clymer, who later brought up the looming threat of the pension crisis: “I feel like we’re talking like because we’re off a ventilator we’re going to run a marathon.”
In order to better understand the situation, a workshop is being planned in the coming days to discuss the issue.
“We need to set up face to face and get a printout of the salaries at the sheriff’s office, the jail and the clerk’s office so we can just see in black and white exactly where we are,” Bartleman added.
In other court happenings, a number of tax districts announced their updated rates for the fiscal year, including the McCracken County Public Library (which took a compensating rate of 6.1 cents per $100 of real estate, 7.91 cents per $100 of personal property and 5 cents per $100 of motor vehicles); the McCracken County Extension Service (which elected to maintain last year’s rate, 4.0870 for real estate, 11.0483 for personal property and 1.29 for motor vehicles); the Melber-New Hope Fire Department (which held at 4.3 cents per $100 across the board); and the McCracken County Mental Health District (a compensating rate of 1.2 cents per $100 across the board).
The next meeting of the McCracken County Fiscal Court is set for Sept. 28.