It was after the meeting had officially adjourned that a heated exchange between a Hazard resident in the crowd and Mayor Bill Gorman took place, apparently over the announcement that the City’s police officers would not be receiving pay raises or promotions in the near future.
Earlier in the meeting, City Manager Paul Feltner described the City’s 2008/2009 budget as “very tight,” and cutbacks were necessary as a result of the current downtrend in the national economy. Different items, such as soaring fuel costs and overtime hours among others, have caused officials working on the budget to conclude that the City can not currently afford to promote or present pay raises to any of its employees. He also noted that other items need to be monitored for possible restricted spending.
“With that all said, we’re proposing no promotions this year, no wage rate increases,” Feltner said.
He added that officials have already addressed some of these issues with personnel, and are tracking each vehicle in the city fleet as time passes, but the City needs to be able to continue to offer around the clock services.
Although Feltner proposed that no promotions or pay raises be included in the budget, he left the door open for those possibilities in the future. “I ask that the board keep an open mind, after we have monitored, reviewed, come back again at some point and time to the board and talk to you again about promotions and other employee considerations,” he said.
But the declaration that officers with the HPD will not be receiving pay raises didn’t seem to sit well with some. Kyle Morgan was hired on to the HPD in June of 2006, and said Monday that some officers can’t support their families on the pay they receive, and when their overtime hours were cut earlier this year the situation exacerbated which ultimately led to his decision to leave the department. “I think if you’re wearing a bullet proof vest you need to get paid for wearing it,” he said.
Along with monetary concerns, the Hazard Police Department has suffered several personnel losses as well. During his monthly report Police Chief Ronnie Bryant noted that three employees of the department had left recently, including Morgan, Sgt. Chris Combs and dispatcher Keisha Hall. In addition, Detective David Wiseman will also be leaving the department as he was hired on as a recruit firefighter with the Hazard Fire Department during Monday’s meeting.
Bryant commented after the meeting’s conclusion that he thinks the officials with city government care about the City’s employees, and understands that like most other government entities budget restrictions are causing cutbacks.
“I do want to stress that our mayor, city commissioners and city manager are working as professionally as they can with their budget and all the restrictions. They have to provide the best services for the city and the city employees, and we will continue working with them until we resolve our problems,” he said.
Bryant acknowledged that the department has lost a few employees, but said officers will continue to provide service for the city’s residents. “I want the public to know that we’re going to do anything and everything we can to provide the most adequate services that we have and we will continue to do so,” he added.
In other business, the City approved a 20 percent increase in commercial garbage rates. Feltner noted during the meeting that gasoline costs have risen 19 percent since the 2007-2008 budget was enacted, and diesel fuel has risen 53 percent in the same amount of time. Much of the diesel cost is being incurred by garbage trucks which operate on that type of fuel. The garbage is currently being transported to London, Feltner added, and the city is operating with a loss in this department. The commission voted unanimously to approve the rate increase, which Mayor Gorman noted will not affect the residential rates.
The City has also approved the second reading of an ordinance that will annex a portion of unincorporated territory into the corporate limits of the City of Hazard. The portion of land to be incorporated will begin on KY Highway 15 North near Fugate Mountain Drive and will include part of the CSX Railroad, Handy Dan’s, Mountain Enterprises, and some of Cherokee Hills Road.
Two firefighters were also hired following an executive session to interview several candidates. In addition to Det. Wiseman’s transfer to the fire department, the City hired Jason Combs to fill the other vacant position within the department. Combs is currently an employee with the Perry County 911 center.