Fiscal Court has unanimously passed a $24.85 million budget for 2012-2013, which includes more than $2 million for the county fire department and $500 raises to all county employees.
This is the first time the county is granting a flat dollar amount to all employees instead of the usual 1 to 2 percent raises it’s granted in the past.
It was Magistrate Larry Perkins’ idea, and he said Thursday he decided on $500 because that’s what someone on a $50,000 salary would have earned on a 1 percent raise.
“Anybody with a $50,000 and below (salary) was able to get the same raise as the person who was making $70,000 or $80,000,” Perkins said before approving the budget.
“I think this is going to help our employees that’s struggling during these economic times.”
Included in the budget is $1.7 million for a new fire station and expanding the one at Chenault Road.
There are no tax increases. Collins said earlier this month that additional funding would come from reserves, bonds and cuts to last year’s budget.
There was little discussion on the budget before the vote. The court had a first reading of the budget proposal at its last meeting May 4. The budget goes into effect July 1.
Much of the meeting was devoted to fireworks, after a proposed ordinance sparked a debate among magistrates, Collins and County Attorney Rick Sparks over whether the county needed to toughen existing regulations.
City officials had asked the court to consider adopting an ordinance regulating the sale and usage of fireworks after they drafted a similar ordinance.
Last year, the state changed its regulations to allow for the sale and usage of certain fireworks like bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers. It was the first time since the early 1980s that Kentucky residents didn’t have to cross the border to Indiana or Tennessee to purchase fireworks.
The city unanimously passed an ordinance Monday that basically reinstates the former regulations banning the sale and usage of fireworks. Commissioner Sellus Wilder said today the ordinance was in response to last summer, when complaints against fireworks usage spiked in the city.
Fiscal Court discussed drafting its own ordinance during the May 4 work session, but several magistrates said they didn’t want to make their ordinance as restrictive as the city’s.
On Thursday, Sparks presented his draft ordinance, which would restrict the sale, licensing and permitting of fireworks but not usage. Magistrates compared Spark’s ordinance with ordinances from Paducah and Bowling Green.
Paducah’s was similar to Sparks’, but with different costs of fees for permits and violations, and Bowling Green’s limited fireworks usage to June 27-July 5.
When magistrates Phillip Kring and Don Sturgeon said they liked Bowling Green’s ordinance, Sparks advised against passing an ordinance designating certain times and dates that fireworks can be used, saying that would “dumb down” the existing laws on the books.
He said it would also create a “law of unintended consequences,” where people would abuse fireworks during the times they’re allowed to use them.
For last year’s Fourth of July season (which runs from the last week in June to a few days after Fourth of July), law enforcement officials received 31 fireworks complaints in the county and 212 in city limits, Frankfort Fire Department Chief Wallace Possich told The State Journal.
Most of those complaints were in regards to people shooting off fireworks near buildings or vehicles or after midnight and into the morning, Possich said.
Frankfort Police Chief Walter Wilhoite told the City Commission in a July 2011 meeting that it’s difficult to cite violators because Kentucky law states the responding officer must catch them in the act.
But Sparks said Thursday that’s the case with any offense – a person must have evidence to support the crime – and that adding laws or heightening current restrictions wouldn’t change that.
“I still think the issue of enforcement was a lack of information to people,” Sparks said. “You get this perspective, ‘Well there’s no law against it so clearly it’s legal.’ Well, you don’t need a law that says, ‘Don’t be stupid’ – it’s called wanton endangerment and you don’t need a law that says, ‘Don’t blast off fireworks late at night’ – that’s called disorderly conduct.”
Sparks said his office didn’t receive any complaints last year regarding fireworks. If someone does have a problem, he advised them to call law enforcement and give them as much information as possible: time, place of usage and, if known, the identity of those using them.
If the problem persists, Sparks said people could also fill out a complaint at his office.
In spite of the heated debate, there was no action on the proposed ordinance after Collins admitted the court sent Sparks “mixed messages” on what it wanted to do. Collins and several others voted to take the ordinance off the agenda, saying they’d like more time to research their options before adopting a new one.
To avoid future confusion over proposals, Sparks suggested the court designate an ordinance committee that could back an ordinance similar to how a legislator sponsors a bill.
“Sometimes I find it extremely frustrating to read your all’s minds,” Sparks said. “You all told me you wanted (the fireworks ordinance) like the city but not as restrictive, and I did that, and if there’s changes to it, I’m totally cool with it, but I need a little bit better guidance.”
Collins said he’d like to revisit the fireworks issue in the future, but for this Fourth of July season, it’s unlikely the court will adopt an ordinance regulating fireworks.
But now that fireworks are illegal in city limits, that could pose a problem for law enforcement, Wilder said.
“(Residents) will bring them into the city, and that’ll be really hard for us to enforce … but there’s not much we can do about that,” Wilder said.
In other action
>The court unanimously passed a resolution adopting a voluntary wellness program for full-time employees. Under the program, employees can earn up to 40 hours of paid time off, or “wellness time,” for participating in activities such as health screenings, smoking cessation classes and gym workouts.
>The court passed a resolution 6-1 that asks the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its “numerous objections” to individual permits for coal mining throughout eastern Kentucky.
The resolution says the EPA has halted numerous mine permits “without adequate explanation” and “failed to acknowledge the severe impact is actions are having on Kentucky’s economy.”
Collins said he put the resolution on the agenda by a request from the Kentucky Association of Counties. When Sparks asked Collins if he had spoken with the EPA, Collins said he had not.
“As someone who actually grew up in the coal mines, whose family actually has black lung and knows what bad water’s like … it always interests me to have flatlanders comment on the mountains and the coal industry,” Sparks said.
Magistrate Jill Robinson was the dissenting vote.
>The court heard a presentation from a representative from Corrisoft, which specializes in services for tracking and monitoring offenders.
The program uses smart phones to locate offenders through GPS.
Sparks, Jailer Billy Roberts and Sheriff Pat Melton said they had an interest in trying out the program. A proposed contract with Corrisoft will be discussed at a later meeting.
>The court went into closed session to discuss pending litigation.