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Stanford could increase occupational tax to 2 percent

STANFORD — After a long discussion about the need for more revenue, Stanford City Council members passed the first reading of an ordinance to increase the occupational tax from .65 percent to 2 percent last week.

“We all know our employees need more money,” said Mayor Eddie Carter. That was the focus of discussion last Thursday night during the council’s regular meeting.

Council member Scottie Ernst shared several documents with the council and public, detailing where the city lands compared to the rest of the state when it comes to employee compensation and occupational tax.

Thursday’s meeting also served as a budget workshop meeting, Carter said. 

Ernst provided a document he generated titled “Reasons for increase in revenue,” in which he detailed ongoing and upcoming expenses that the city will incur. Ernst also made a case for giving raises to both the city fire and police departments, and the city attorney, as well as additional help he says is needed within the street department.

“I feel like tonight we’re at a crossroads of where the city is going to go,” Ernst said.

Ernst’s document states the city’s fire department, which includes 26 volunteers, has experienced an increase in run volume due to increased traffic on U.S. 27 and U.S. 150. Despite the increase in run volume, the department has improved the city’s Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating from 9 to 3 since 1991.

Similar to the fire department, the police department has experienced an increase in run volumes due to increased traffic and increased drug activity in the area. The Stanford Police Department is also providing two school resource officers to Lincoln County Schools.

Police Chief Zach Middleton provided council members with a chart that shows a comparison of average salaries of a police officer, detective, sergeant, captain and chief in the state, compared to those employed by the City of Stanford.

According to the data, which was taken from a February 2018 report by the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC), Stanford’s police chief, captain and sergeant make salaries that are below the state minimum, while Stanford’s police detective and officers make just above minimum but remain below the bottom 25 percent and bottom 50 percent compared to the rest of the state.

The data provided by the KLC was compiled this year and serves as a general reference for city officials in human resources and budgeting areas, according to the introduction. According to the report, “minimum” refers to the lowest yearly salary reported for the position.

According to Middleton’s calculations, a 10-percent raise across the police department would bring salaries in-line with the KLC report’s minimum.

A 15-percent increase would put the department’s salaries in the bottom 25 percent compared to the state averages.

A 15-percent salary increase would cost the city approximately $138,000, Middleton said.

“The police officers, the volunteer firemen, the fire chief, they’re not asking for a raise. They’re not asking for anything,” Ernst said. “After our last meeting, I wanted this information to help us decide on what the occupational tax should be. So I asked for this information and it surprised me. We’re paying our fire chief and police officers even below minimum. We’re not even below average, and that’s disturbing to me.”

“We sit here as council and we pat them on the back and we thank them and tell them they’re doing a great job and we appreciate you,” Ernst said. “It’s time we put the money where our mouth is. If we appreciate them and they’re doing a good job, let’s pay them decently. I would like to see us pay them what Zach (Middleton) is saying here … the minimum, or at the bottom 25 percent. We’re not even at the 50-percent average — that’s my point.”

Council member Ronnie Deatherage said many of the employees on the department are Stanford/Lincoln County natives.

Deatherage said he appreciates the fact that people are willing to take less money to stay here and work.

“I think we need to look at what we can do, not just to show our appreciation,” he said.

Middleton said if the city were to raise the occupational tax to 1.5 percent, the city could afford the 15-percent raise and still have $450,000 left to prepare for future increases in hazardous duty pay and other expenses.

“It’s not just the police department. It gets Scott (Maples) where he needs to be — he’s one of the best fire chiefs in the state. It puts Jeff (Knouse, code enforcement officer) where he needs to be,” Middleton said.

The salary for City Attorney Christopher Reed, which is currently $800 per month, was also discussed.

“He has been asked to do more than his position as city attorney (requires),” Ernst wrote in his documentation provided to council members. “…he has gone above and beyond his rim of duty. He has spent countless hours preparing to represent council in court cases for trial, the property on Lancaster Street that was finally settled, research and legal work on properties to demolish. It’s time that he is compensated for his work.”

The discussion over salaries continued last Thursday night for over an hour, and concluded with council members voting to pass the first reading of an ordinance raising the occupational tax from .65 percent to 2 percent.

Under the current occupational tax rate, someone making $480 a week ($12 an hour, 40 hours a week) pays $3.12 a week out of their paycheck to Stanford. That’s $162.24 annually. If the 2-percent rate is finalized, the same worker would pay Stanford $9.60 out of their paycheck every week, which equals $499.20 per year.

The motion to pass first reading of the increase was made by council member Peggy Hester and seconded by Ernst. Council members John Sallee and Naren James were not in attendance.

A special called meeting for the second reading of the occupational tax increase has been scheduled for Monday, June 18 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.