Fiscal court meeting gets heated
HAZARD — Questions over county spending on a new vehicle for the judge-executive, possible issues in the sheriff’s office and legal rights over nuisance animals were just a few topics brought up during what became at times a heated meeting of the Perry County Fiscal Court on August 21.
During the regular business on the agenda, the court set the 2013 motor vehicle and watercraft property tax rates, voting to keep the same rates as in the the past several years. The rate remains at 14.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.
In other business, Noble said that he was going to have to look at a possible layoff of two county employees in order to keep expenses in the county down. These employees could come from the county police, a department created by the fiscal court a little over a year ago to patrol the parks in the county.
In the past year the county has hired one part time and three full time officers. Noble has also been able to allocate coal severance for the county police. He said in the meeting that he had already discussed the possibility of cutting back with County Police Chief Don Howard. No action has been taken and Noble has said in the past he would actually like to grow the department by using the coal severance to buy more vehicles to use for volunteer patrols.
Following some other standard county business such as approving bills, reviewing special district budgets in the county order book and police statistics, several debates broke out including members of the audience. One debate concerned what some citizens claim was an overly extravagant vehicle choice purchased for use by Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble.
In the January 24 fiscal court meeting the court voted to no longer buy used trucks for county use, including for the judge-executive and magistrates. The reasoning behind this was to cut down on repair costs over time. Judge Noble said in that meeting that they were wasting money on repairs at a rate comparable to buying a new truck.
Now, eight months later the judge is planning on replacing the truck he has driven for the county for eight years with a 2012 Ford F-150 Raptor. The truck was put on the agenda for the August 21 meeting after a change order was needed to be approved to upgrade the truck from a half cab to a full cab, raising the price by just under $4,000.
The Raptor’s base price is just over $42,000, but with the extended cab and other features the county will be paying just over $50,000 for the truck. Noble justified the change order and noted that the vehicle choice was due to fitting several functions of his job, and also because the vehicle will retain its value better than other models. Some in the audience, however, disagreed with his decision.
“I have to have a full cab because if we go to meetings or anything, or I have to pick the governor up,” said Noble. “Now let me tell you why I picked it (the Raptor model) out, because the resale value on it.”
The base 2012 model 4x4 Ford F-150 sells for just over $29,000, according to the Ford website. The Raptor version adds several features, including a greater 4x4 capability and a 6.2 liter engine with the ability to accelerate from 0-60 in just under seven seconds. However, it also reduces fuel economy down to only 11 miles per gallon in the city.
Perry County resident Lloyd Engle questioned whether the county could afford such a vehicle after talking about a possible layoff of two county employees to save money.
“Do you need a truck like that?” asked Engle. “You are talking about people getting laid off work for the county, guys that need to work.”
Noble said that the higher stance of the Raptor would be beneficial in county business, especially in times of weather-related disasters.
“I went to that wash out in Lost Creek (in 2011) and the water rushed through the floor boards of my truck,” said Noble. “This one is a lot higher.”
Noble added that the Raptor will also hold a higher resale value longer than many other trucks because of its durability, including its lack of chrome.
“One thing, it does not have all that chrome on it,” he said. “When you wash it it peels off. It doesn’t matter to me. I could care less what I drive. I just know it is more durable. It is more of a truck that I would like to drive. It is fancy, but it doesn’t have all that chrome stuff on it.”
Noble’s current county vehicle, a Ford F-150 he has driven for the past eight years that has accumulated more than 166,000 miles, will be assigned to another county employee, Noble said.
The fiscal court voted to approve the change order for the truck to get the extended cab version for the judge-executive’s county vehicle.
Over the past several months, the fiscal court has been asking for the Perry County Sheriff’s Office to give a more regular account of their spending and statistics. It has been a practice in the past that a representative from the sheriff’s office has come to the fiscal court meetings monthly to give statistics, though according to the fiscal court this has been happening more and more infrequently.
After several questions about the sheriff’s department arose in the meeting, Noble asked for Sheriff Les Burgett to come down to the meeting to be available to answer them. When Burgett arrived he said that he would answer any questions but felt that the intention of two Perry County residents, both Engle and Lost Creek resident Eddie Campbell, was to harass him about false accusations.
Engle accused Burgett during the meeting of failing to come to work regularly.
“At some point the county has gotten too big for the sheriff’s department, or the sheriff has gotten too lazy for the county,” Engle said during the meeting. “There must be a problem somewhere. This guy don’t come to work, he don’t even come to work.”
Burgett said that he is working 100 percent of the time though not always in the office since he is out on duty.
“I can’t sit up there all the time, that is not where it is at,” Burgett replied. “We have got real problems in this county, dope buying and dope dealing and stuff. That is what we are working on.”
The interaction became heated at one point with both men standing and yelling at one another. Noble attempted to impose order and even said that Engle and Eddie Campbell may have to leave.
“Let’s don’t get out of hand with this,” Noble interjected. “Let’s try to keep it calm now.”
Engle said he had found a state law mandating that a representative from the sheriff’s office be present at all fiscal court meetings. The spirit of the law is that the deputy would help maintain order in the court room, though Engle said that presence would also give the chance to answer questions to the public.
The altercation ended with Burgett agreeing to bring monthly financial records to the fiscal court along with statistics before he left the courtroom.
At the end of the meeting another audience member asked the judge what could be done about neighborhood dogs destroying his plants. The man had wanted permission to shoot the dogs. County Attorney John Carl Shackelford informed him of the law stating that he could not shoot the animals unless they were attacking him, his family or another living creature.
Also during the meeting, the court approved adding new members to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. Shade Neace, Earl Brasher and Derrick Bowling were added to this committee. Bowling was also adding to the board for the Troublesome Creek Environmental Authority.
The 2012-2013 budgets for the Appalachian Industrial Authority, Pine Ridge Regional Industrial Authority, and the Coal Field Regional Industrial Authority were all submitted to the fiscal court to be recorded in the record book.
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