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Barren County Fiscal Court has addressed several issues as of late that may affect many employees within the county and city. At last week’s regular meeting, the court voted to approve a “pie chart” presented to the court by County Treasurer Jenny Hoffman and Krista Steenbergen, a newly contracted consultant hired by the County. Steenbergen will assist the County with the federal regulations on the American Rescue Plan Act funds (ARPA).
On March 11, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the act into law to provide direct aid to counties across the country. According to the Kentucky Associations of Counties (KACo) website, “Kentucky counties will receive an estimated direct distribution of approximately $867.5 million.”
KACo website states the funds will be distributed in two separate distributions over the course of two fiscal years. The total estimated allocation as of 5/10/21 is $8,594,850.00 for Barren County per the KACo website. Compared to neighboring counties: Warren ($25,813,490) and Metcalfe ($1,956,174). The amounts each county receive are based on the 2019 county populations.
The pie chart, Hoffman explained, was a direction on where to go, or goals, for the usage of the ARPA monies. She also said the pie chart was a fluid document “not set in stone,” meaning the items listed can be changed as well as the percentages.
The general chart is a means to start the process of using the ARPA funds, but as individual projects or costs occur in the future, the Court would have to vote on more specific, detailed costs once those are actually known.
Included on the chart is a portion reserved for “premium pay” funds to pay both hourly and salary county employees 18% (equivalent to approx. $5/hour) who worked during certain months of the COVID-19 pandemic starting in 2020. It also will only apply to active employees and the money would be taxed.
If a previous employee worked during the pandemic, but is no longer a county employee, they would not receive any of the premium pay. Also, check amounts are anticipated to vary across employees as they can only receive the extra money for hours actually worked during the pandemic.
For example, if an employee was off with COVID-19 or required to care for family with the virus, the hours they were not at work would not be hours counted in the premium pay. However, all other hours actually worked would be counted.
Hoffman stated in the Administrative and Budget Committee (ABC) meeting the day prior that the goal is to issue the premium paychecks to employees by Dec 1.
Steenbergen, who was hired at $48,000 annually from the ARPA funds, said she worked with the Barren River Area Development District on part of the ARPA funds regarding loss revenue with a formula from the federal government. These funds, she said, would be money that would be inserted into the County’s budget for certain things.
Steenbergen was unsure, at this point, whether the ARPA funds could pay for the 911 call center employees’ pay raises currently being discussed in both Fiscal Court and Glasgow City Council.
Barren Co. Judge/Executive Michael Hale said the premium pay is something they can give their current employees who worked during the pandemic between 1/27/2020 through 9/3/2021, a cutoff date was required to process everything per Hoffman.
“As county government entities, you can’t give bonuses to employees—it’s illegal,” Judge Hale said, “What this does is gives us the opportunity to tell your employees, ‘hey, thank you for coming to work, thank you for sticking with us.’”
Judge Hale added the move would not only provide a current morale booster for employees, but also would positively affect the future of employees in regards to retirement and other long-term benefits. Hoffman said every part of this would strictly come from the ARPA money.
A day prior to the Fiscal Court meeting, the ABC met and discussed the goals of the ARPA money. In that meeting, Hoffman explained to the court, the federal government gives them the ability to pay the premium pay up to $13, however, she said, “We are obviously not going to do that.” She also explained monies not used for the premium pay can be shifted into other areas of that pie chart. It is unclear at this time how the 18% was chosen for the premium pay.
In regards to other ARPA funds, it may be that, based on federal requirements, some employees may receive funds while others may not.
Discussing the process in the ABC meeting about ARPA funds, Judge Hale used an example of fund allocations where a magistrate may suggest allocating 5% to widget builders in the county. He said at that point, along with Steenbergen, a study would be required to see who would be eligible based on federal requirements.
Chair of ABC and Magistrate Jeff Botts asked if the premium pay could be more individualized to each employee where some may have had extra work outside of their normal duties due to the pandemic. Both Judge Hale and Hoffman stated it would be a fair distribution across all employees if they keep the amount the same “across the board.”
Back to the fiscal court meeting, Dickerson asked for clarification on the pie chart vote and premium pay percent. Basically, he asked if the Court could change the percentage for the premium pay at a later date. Steenbergen replied, “You’re voting for the premium pay to be 18% but the rest of it is fluid.”
Botts made a motion to accept goals listed on the pie chart for the ARPA funds to start the process of using the funds including the 18% employee premium pay; Judge Hale seconded the motion.
The motion passed 5-1, with Magistrate Trent Riddle not present. Magistrates Kenneth Sartin, Billy Houchens, Botts, Dickerson, and Judge Hale voted yes with Magistrate Tim Coomer voting no.
Prior to the vote, Coomer said, “I’ll just say right now I will be a no, because I voted on something with no more- was that MOU on the courthouse, and I was sorry for it because I didn’t research it.”
“I’m not saying I’m against this, but I will be a no vote because I need more time.”
For more information regarding county-related ARPA funds, visit https://kaco.org/county-information/american-rescue-plan-resources/faq-arpa/
911 PAY RAISES
Barren Fiscal Court discussed the proposed interlocal agreement between Barren County, City of Glasgow, and City of Cave City designed for all three entities to help pay for a $2/hour pay raise for employees at the Barren/Metcalfe Emergency Communications Center (911 Call Center).
The agreement explains the City of Glasgow has previously paid the 911 employees while actually serving the entire population of all three entities. It also includes the acceptance of $20,000 and $50,000 from the City of Cave City and the Barren County Fiscal Court, respectively, for the fiscal year 2021-2022.
The agreement also states, “Glasgow shall continue to provide the remainder of the salaries for the employees as well as all Social Security, Worker’s Compensation, retirement, and any similar expenses, as well as the cost of administering the operation, as they have in the past.”
Both the County and Cave City would each have an appointed member of the Call Center Management Control Board.
The agreement explains it would be a continuing agreement for similar contributions each fiscal year and automatically renewed annually by Cave City, Glasgow, and County unless terminated by either or all three entities.
In the prior Glasgow City Council meeting on Oct. 11, some council members were hesitant to vote to accept the $50,000 Barren County had already contributed because the council did not have a signed interlocal agreement in hand to review. Some were concerned that the other entities may not be in agreement for a yearly contribution, which would revert the entire cost back to the City of Glasgow after one year.
Glasgow Mayor Harold Armstrong was at the fiscal court meeting and explained at length the history of 911 call center employees’ pay as well as why they should be given $2 raises. The history included, he said, budget-cutting and increased pay for a previous director.
“What it mounted to for the last three or four years, they have been competing with Walmart and other people trying to get people to go to work,” Mayor Armstrong told the Court, “Plus the ones that’s already working there have got to the point where their scale didn’t work out to the 10-year plan.”
He said employees who have been there for nine years should be making $17.40 and they’re only making $15.40.
Botts mentioned the potential to use the ARPA money for the ongoing cost of the raises, but at this point, it is unknown if that would be possible, plus that would eventually run out.
Judge Hale clarified for the magistrates that the $50,000 had already been given for the raises, but the interlocal agreement would be to sustain the amount annually.
The $2 raises have also already been given to the 911 call center employees.
The Court unanimously voted to table the item until a later date with a roll call vote.