County fire dept. pay increases on hold

An ordinance to increase salaries for the three battalion chiefs at the Clark County Fire Department is on hold until magistrates can review a proposal to increase all salaries within the department.

The Clark County Fiscal Court was scheduled to vote on the second reading of the ordinance Wednesday, but the matter was tabled on a 4-3 vote. Magistrate Robert Blanton made the motion to continue the matter until the Bluegrass Area Development District completes its study of the fire department and Fire Chief Ernie Barnes could present a written copy of his proposal to increase salaries within the department.

Barnes’ plan would increase starting salaries for new firefighters and space the ranks so there is about a 10 percent difference between firefighters, lieutenants, captains and battalion chiefs.

Financially, the change would cost the county less than $120,000, Barnes said.

“We can’t compete with Lexington but we should be able to compete with similar-sized departments,” he said.

Barnes said he would like to see that plan incorporated in the next fiscal year, or possibly phased in over two years.

The department, he said, has found itself in a staffing crisis. Between several resignations and people off for injuries, Barnes said part-time firefighters and volunteers are covering the differences.

“We knew we would have some staffing issues,” he said. “We didn’t think it would happen this fast.”

Barnes said he has been advertising for two vacant firefighter positions and just got two qualified applicants in recent days.

“I think this crisis may be averted but retention is ongoing,” Barnes said.

Additionally, Barnes said half of the department’s full-time firefighters are older than 40 and the department’s volunteer program has been lacking in recent months.

Following the first reading of the ordinance, some magistrates said they would rather see raises go to the firefighters at the bottom of the scale, rather than the officers at the top.

Magistrate Daniel Konstantopoulos said he would like to do everything at once, rather than some this year and others next year.

“It will be a perpetual expense even if it is phased in,” he said.

Magistrate Greg Elkins said his calculations put the cost at about $300,000 annually.

“I don’t know where we get $300,000,” he said. “I’d like to see it in writing.”

“I appreciate your concern about the finances,” Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham said.

The magistrates voted 4-3 to table the matter, with Branham and magistrates Sheila McCord and Pam Blackburn voting no. A date for the completed study has not been announced.

Barnes said the proposal would also create a gap between the vacant training officer/fire marshal position, which carries the rank of major, and the battalion chiefs. The post has been vacant since March when Barnes was promoted to chief. Barnes said there are internal candidates for the job, but it has not been advertised yet.

In other action, the court:

— voted 5-2 to terminate custodian Nichole Lainhart, following a lengthy executive session. Konstantopoulos and Elkins voted no.

— approved the hiring of Morgan Hazlett as a temporary kennel attendant at the Clark County Animal Shelter.

— voted to assign CSEPP employee Charles Steele a grade and step in the county pay plan.

— accepted the recommendation to use Neely and Wade as the agent of record for the county’s KACO, general lines and worker’s compensation insurance.