HAZARD – The Perry County Fiscal Court this week approved a cost-of-living increase and amended the county budget to include more than $2 million in previously unbudgeted receipts.
The cost-of-living increase will represent a 3 percent pay raise for all county employees, said Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble, which will fall in line with similar increases already approved in the county clerk’s and sheriff’s offices.
The unbudgeted receipts were amended into the county budget by a motion made by District 3 Magistrate Earl Brashear. The receipts include more than $1.2 million in a prior year carryover for coal severance funds. Other receipts include $350,152 in delinquent property taxes, $238,182 from a federal grant, and $117,503 in prior year funds from the county road fund. In total, the fiscal court approved $2,355,538 in funds from previously unbudgeted receipts.
This money will be allocated to five different funds, including $512,435 in the county’s general fund, and $276,408 in the road fund.
In other business, the court discussed a resolution that would establish protocols for the continuation of county government in the event that the county judge suddenly becomes unable to fulfill his duties.
When a vacancy occurs in the judge-executive’s office, the governor is tasked with appointing a successor. But in some instances, such as a disability or absence, the county’s deputy judge can temporarily perform the judge-executive’s duties during an emergency.
County Attorney John Carl Shackelford suggested the court table this resolution and obtain an opinion from the county ethics commission before moving forward, since the county’s deputy judge is Noble’s wife, Brenda Noble.
The county’s code of ethics prohibits spouses or dependent children from working in a full time of permanent part time positions within county government. And while Brenda Noble does not receive any compensation for her role as deputy judge, and Judge-Executive Noble noted that she would not even in the event that she assumed his duties for a short period of time, Shackelford advised the court to seek an advisory opinion from the ethics commission before approving the resolution to establish the line of succession.
“We need to make sure that’s not in violation of [the ethics code],” Shackelford said. “We’ve had the issue come up before.”
The court then voted to table the issue until an advisory opinion from the ethics commission can be obtained.
Judge Noble also addressed the court’s policy on allowing audience members to speak at regular fiscal court meetings after the issue was brought up by Lost Creek resident Lloyd Engle.
Engle was escorted from the December meeting of the fiscal court, and earlier this month during a meeting of the Perry County Ambulance Authority, while attempting to offer criticism of previous board actions.
Engle appeared again this month as he requested a clarification on the court’s policy on public discourse.
Engle said he remains passionate about a citizen’s right to disagree with official policy, and to voice that disagreement at public meetings.
“I believe in government,” he said. “I believe in citizens having the right to, as long as he does it in an orderly way, to disagree with policies. Up here last month, what did I do, I get escorted out of the courthouse.”
Engle asked the court if he or anyone else needs to be placed on the agenda before speaking openly before the court, as he did this week.
It has been common for Judge Noble to open the court for discussion during regular county meetings, and he answered this week that he will continue that practice.
Noble said the disagreements began a few months ago when a previous meeting got heated, and when Engle brought up issues with the ambulance service board last month, those were issues that the fiscal court could not answer and would have been best brought up before the ambulance board.
State law on open meetings dictates that all private citizens have a right to attend public meetings, but it is the right of the public agency holding the meeting to allow the public to interact in those meetings. In the fiscal court’s case, Judge Noble can limit speech from the audience during a regular meeting.
Noble, who also chairs the ambulance board, said he acted how he thought was right at the time to keep those meetings in order.
“The people attend these meetings, and I can’t sit here and let people get out of order because somebody’s going to get hurt,” Noble said. “I think that’s where this all started, but if I’ve done anything wrong I apologize. I feel like that what I’ve done I tried to do right. I was trying to keep order in the meetings.”
The fiscal court in Perry County meets at 10 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month.