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Court votes down insurance contribution proposal
In March 31 Issue
By John Thompson
Times Journal Reporter

Judge-Executive Gary Robertson put before the Russell County Fiscal Court a proposal to have government employees under the purview of the Fiscal Court to contribute 25 percent toward the continuation of their health care coverage, which was his recommendation at a special called meeting last Friday.

Robertson presented the court with two budgets, one with the county paying the full insurance rates which they now pay, and another where employees would pay 25 percent. If county government employees were to contribute the 25 percent toward their health insurance, Robertson said the savings on the jail employees alone would be $33,000 for the 24 employees. With the addition of 911 services, road crew, recycling center and judges office employees, the total would be $60,936.00.

The other two offices that come under the fiscal court, but are fee offices that collect their own revenues, the Sheriff's Office and the County Clerk's office, would save another $27,698 on about 20 employees, for a total savings to the county of $88,634.00.

The judge's proposal was met with no support among the magistrates, County Jailer, or road crew employees who appeared at the meeting.

"Myself, I'm against cutting the insurance," said Magistrate Ronald Johnson. "I'm against them paying a fourth of it." Johnson went on to say that many of the employees that would be affected were hired in at $7.50 an hour and that most keep the job because of the availability of insurance. "It's not like they're making that much money, and then you put them paying a fourth of their insurance, it's really going to cut into their salary," Johnson said, "and part of the years they don't get a cost of living increase."

None of the magistrates supported the proposal, mostly reflecting the sentiments of Johnson. Magistrate Greg Popplewell said, "I've wrestled with that decision," going on to say that it's his belief that "if we cut their insurance, and then raise their occupational tax, it's like they're getting double whammied."

Jailer Bobby Dunbar expressed a strong dislike of the idea, defending his deputy jailers; "I've put together a staff that's underpaid for the work that they do," Dunbar then relayed that his employees performed the work of a hospital in the previous days, going as far as performing personal care for an inmate who was going through detoxification, "for $8.50 an hour," Dunbar said, "cut mine if you want to, but don't cut my staff."

Bobby Corner with the Russell County Road Department, added, "About all we work for is the insurance, that's why we hired on," an understanding agreed to by Phillip Chapman and Lewis Conner, also present from the Road Dept.

Judge Robertson thanked everyone for their input, adding "I wish there was more general public here to hear your all's side of the story."

The magistrates were put on record by being asked to vote on a motion to not require county employees to pay the 25 percent of their health insurance as proposed. All magistrates voted to continue paying 100 percent of employee insurance.

In other court business; Russell County Court Clerk Lisha Popplewell was available as Judge Robertson opened the one bid submitted for new voting machines for the county. The bid, from Harp Enterprises, was for 18 machines at $4,500 each, or $81,000 total. Popplewell explained that the State Board of Elections would pay for 16, and that it is her and the board's recommendation is to have two as spares in case of malfunctions, paid for by the county.

Magistrate Greg Popplewell questioned the ability of the machines, model being the Escan 202 Compliant Paper Ballot Scanning System, to prevent fraudulent voting. County Clerk Popplewell assured the court that the system had already been adopted by approximately 90 of the 120 counties in Kentucky, and that internal programming was secure, stating that in her discussions with other County Clerk's they have not had any issues with problems with the machines.

The court voted to accept the 18 machines in two separate motions.

The 2011-2012 detention center budget was submitted to the court. The $1,751,551.00 budget does not require a vote by the court for acceptance. Magistrate Johnson stated that he did not foresee the budget being as much as it is, but that before a history is established it would be difficult to know what the yearly budget would actually run.

"The numbers you all have got is a projected budget," said Magistrate Johnson, "It's been open 30 days. It's hard for me to say this is what it's going to cost to run it until we run it a year to see what it's going to cost. I don't know if these numbers will hold true; that's more than I thought it would be." Johnson followed up saying that with the feasibility studies they had received that he did not think it would be that much.

Judge Robertson said that for every 10 state inmates, the county would generate approximately $108,000.00 if the inmates stay for a full month.

Jail and prison populations are on the decline in Kentucky and throughout the nation. The county built the jail in the hope that we would be able to maintain between 25 and 30 state prisoners at a time to help offset jail costs. As of the time of the meeting Jailer Dunbar said there were 30 currently in the detention center, but that that number was always fluid. He assured the court that he was always looking for more.

"I promised I'd run the jail just like I campaigned," said Dunbar, "I'd run the jail as hard as I did to be elected, and that's what I'm doing right now. I'm going to get them wherever I can to get them in."

As a special call meeting the court is required to only address items that are on the agenda. The final item on the agenda was for the court to vote to pay bills. The bills needed paying before the next regularly scheduled meeting.

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