LANCASTER — Cell phones are becoming too costly for some solid waste employees in Garrard County, in part because they are using personal phones for work, said Chris Thomason, solid waste coordinator for Garrard and Lincoln counties.
Thomason approached the Garrard Fiscal Court Monday night to request six of his employees be given a $25 a month stipend to offset the cost of the work-related use their phones are getting. The vehicles operated by the solid waste employees do not carry two-way radios.
“They are burning up their daytime minutes (for work) on personal phones,” Thomason said.
However, while most magistrates agree something must be done, several concerns were raised, including making sure it is the best way to handle the situation county-wide.
“You’ve got some 60 county employees; whatever you do, you have to do across the board,” Judge-Executive John Wilson said.
However, the problem with that, he admits, is some departments don’t have the money in the budget for such stipends. The solid waste department generates its own revenue, which enables it to consider these types of funding.
“It’s Chris’ budget. It seems it should be his choice,” Magistrate Joe Leavell said. “I just feel like we’re micromanaging.”
There is a debate about whether or not the stipend would mean those phones are subject to the Open Records Act. In Kentucky, members of the general public have the right to access any public records maintained by state and local government agencies, which includes bodies such as Garrard Fiscal Court. According to the the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General, it also includes those that receive at least 25 percent of their funds from state or local authority. There are some exceptions, such as if revealing the document were a threat to public safety or an individual’s privacy.
If accepting this stipend caused the employees to be subject to the Open Records Act, they would be forced to hand over the records of phone calls and text messages received and sent from those phones, per public request.
Garrard County does have some cell phones provided for county workers, but Wilson said there are only a few that are allowed to use those, including one that stays with the animal shelter, to be used by the person on-call that night. There also are phones in each ambulance, but the county requires those to stay in the vehicle.
One option, he explained, could be to add Thomason’s employees to the county plan and give them a phone, to be used only for work-related purposes.
Other problems arise with that idea. The potential cost could be a bit much for the county to take on. Thomason also says there often are inmates in the vehicles and, if they discover there is a cell phone is accessible, they will try to use that phone.
Another option would be to increase the pay of the solid waste employees by 20 cents, to ease the burden on these employees, without getting into the problem of open record laws. However, that also concerns Wilson, as he feels it might be unfair to the other departments, especially those who cannot afford to increase pay, yet the employees — and volunteers, in the case of the animal shelter — use their personal phones.
“I think Chris has a need and this (his idea) was an imaginative, creative way to solve it without spending a lot of money,” Magistrate Fred Simpson said.
The magistrates made a motion to table the discussion for a month, allowing more research to be conducted, so the most cost effective and beneficial method could be determined.
In other Garrard Fiscal Court business:
- The magistrates had a second reading and adoption on the 25-cent water meter change. Magistrates expect a testing of the legality; however, it is believed if it passes, it will benefit the public. As it stands currently, only a portion of the county, generally the older population, is paying the tax, which was on landline phones only.
“It will be a tax decrease for some,” Wilson said. He says by removing the tax from the landlines and putting it on the water meters, it will make it more even across-the-county.
- Garrard County received additional grant money, which had not been budgeted. For this reason, the budget had to be amended by the magistrates, enabling that money to be spent as needed. The Fiscal Court pushed an emergency amendment through, enabling them to pay off necessary bills. Deputy Judge-Executive and Finance Officer James Bushnell explained the money was there and the bills had been received. However, they were not able to pay them off without amending the budget.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Bushnell said.
- Magistrates heard the first reading of a second budget amendment, which will allow them to pay anticipated bills.
- James Earl Land was reappointed to serve on the Library Board of Trustees.
- The Fiscal Court plans to surplus two of the older ambulances. They will then enter into a loan agreement to purchase new ones. Wilson proposed that the Fiscal Court consider going with a loan from the Industrial Development Authority, which the magistrates approved. The IDA is a joint board between Lancaster and Garrard County to promote industrial and economic development in the county.
“It makes common sense, because it keeps the money in the community and it’s a lower interest rate,” Wilson said. Currently, loans made through the Kentucky Association of Counties are at a 3.55 percent interest rate, while the IDA would offer a rate of 2.75 percent.
- The proposed road maintenance fee in the Rolling Meadows community will be decided upon later this week. It is a decision the community has to make, not the magistrates. However, Wilson explains they have to approve it and the Fiscal Court “acts as a conduit for them (Rolling Meadows).”