Sheriff blames fiscal court for impending deputy layoffs

By Ralph Davis

December 30, 2013

PRESTONSBURG — After the Floyd County Fiscal Court voted Monday to force the county clerk’s and sheriff’s offices to pay for the insurance and retirements costs for their employees, Sheriff John K Blackburn warned that layoffs are coming.

Blackburn said immediately after the meeting that he believes he will have to lay off about half of his workforce of 27 deputies, including all of those working on night shift, shortly after the new year.

“In my office in 15 years, I’ve not had any layoffs until now,” Blackburn said. “I hate that citizens are not going to have any law enforcement, but it’s not my fault.”

Blackburn said his office simply does not generate the money required to pay the roughly $300,000 a year in employee insurance and retirement costs.

For years, the fiscal court has paid the insurance and retirement costs for employees of the county clerk’s and sheriff’s offices. However, facing a $450,000 shortfall, as well as a warning from the state to either straighten out the county’s finances or face removal and a state takeover, magistrates on Monday voted to shift those costs to the individual offices.

As magistrates first took up the matter, Blackburn asked them to consider the difficulty he was facing.

“Starting out with zero amount and having to borrow money from the state, I don’t know how you expect me to pay that,” Blackburn said.

The sheriff also objected to the fiscal court giving him a budget he had not seen prior to Monday’s meeting.

“Who made this budget up?” Blackburn said. “I did not sign it and I do not approve.”

But while members of the court appeared sympathetic to Blackburn’s plight, they said they simply had no other choice. County Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall said the county has “come to a stop sign in the road, and it has to be dealt with.”

“We appreciate the fact that deputies put their lives on the line every day …” Marshall said. “It’s not about us wanting to lay people off or creating a situation where we have to.”

At one point in the meeting, Deputy Steve Montgomery asked the Marshall and the magistrates why they had not cut their own salaries, when they were asking other offices to take cuts. When told that state law forbade the fiscal court from cutting their salaries, he then asked them to consider donating half of their salaries to the county, to help with expenses.

That request, however, went nowhere.

“I’m not sitting here for my health,” District 2 Magistrate Hattie Owens said in response to Montgomery’s request.