For 32 consecutive years, Rowan County Clerk Jean W. Bailey submitted her staff wages budget to Fiscal Court for approval and not once was it altered.
But that streak came to an end last week when Fiscal Court voted unanimously to reduce her office’s wage allocation in 2012 from $300,000 to $200,000.
Under KRS 64.530, each county’s two “fee” offices – county clerk and sheriff – must get the Fiscal Court’s approval of the maximum amount they propose to spend on wages and fringe benefits for ”deputies and assistants” during the ensuing calendar year.
A “fee” office generates its operating budget from the fees it is allowed to collect by law for the services it provides to citizens.
For example, the clerk’s office receives a $6 fee for the issuance of new motor vehicle licenses.
Fees collected beyond the proposed operating budget are considered “excess” and must be turned over to the county general fund at the end of the calendar year.
Judge-Executive Jim Nickell said he feels the magistrates took the unusual action because of a number of complaints they had received from county employees and other citizens who believe the clerk’s office staff is paid too much.
Bailey’s request for 2012 listed five employees with total compensation of $197,818.98 in 2011. That figure was said to include regular pay, overtime, unused vacation and sick leave.
She asked the Court to continue the $300,000 annual allocation that had been in effect since 2007.
The highest staff wage in 2011 – $63,113 – was paid to Bailey’s chief deputy clerk, Kim Davis, who also happens to be her daughter.
Davis is listed at $24.91 hourly for a 40-hour work week and an annual wage of $51,812. She received an additional $11,301 in overtime and other compensation during 2011.
Her rate of pay apparently triggered most of the complaints, The Morehead News has learned from various sources.
Kentucky law permits elected county officials to employ family members and to set their levels of pay. It is a common practice throughout the state.
“My feelings are hurt and I’m disappointed that I was not extended the courtesy of explaining my salary budget before the Fiscal Court was ready to take action,” Bailey said later.
“Kim has worked in my office for nearly 24 years and knows this operation from top to bottom. She works long hours, often goes without vacation, and is very skilled at her job. She earns her pay and does not deserve this kind of treatment.”
Bailey said that when she was advised that the Court members were preparing to vote on the matter, she chose not to go to the meeting because the discussion was over.
The veteran clerk said she believes the complaints are based on misinformation which circulated during her last reelection campaign in 2010.
In comparison with other chief deputies on the county payroll, Davis’ total pay substantially exceeds the $38,000 of Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Cline and the $36,000 of Deputy Judge-Executive Jerry Alderman, neither of whom receive overtime pay.
Bailey, a former president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, worked 17 years under former clerk Ottist Elam before being elected to her first term in 1977. She has been reelected eight times.
“State audits of this office have never been critical of my work and I have dedicated myself to being a good public official,” she added.
Bailey said the reduction of her salary budget could force her to reduce hours of operation in her office, thereby inconveniencing the public.
“We increased our office hours when we moved to the new courthouse last summer and that added to our costs but it was helpful to the taxpayers we serve,” she added.
“I had hoped this coming year to restore one of the two positions I left unfilled a few years ago when the bad economy reduced our fee income,” the clerk said. “That may not be possible on a smaller budget.”
Bailey said relocating her office files and hauling records to new offices was done by her staff and that the project involved additional overtime.
Asked about her attitude toward those who voted to reduce her budget, Bailey said she would give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they acted in what they believed was the county’s best interests.
At the same meeting where the clerk’s budget was altered, Court members approved the staff wages budget of Sheriff Jack Carter in the amount of $414,713.
Carter’s budget indicates he expects to return at least $61,348 in excess fees to the county. Bailey’s figure is $26,999. However, she has returned an average of $67,454 a year over the last three years.
“I always submit a conservative figure and then exceed it at the end of the year,” she said.
As elected county officeholders, Bailey and Carter each make $82,760 yearly, as set by state law.
Keith Kappes can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 784-4116.