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NO LIE...Tempers fly over pay comments

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - The decision for Shepherdsville city employee pay raises in January continues to draw ire from some residents.

And several paid advertisements published in the newspaper have raised concerns, the latest leading to heated comments between a resident and the Shepherdsville City Council.

Mayor Scott Ellis began the April 8 business meeting with a statement regarding the most recent ad paid for by Gaynell Rummage. In her ad, Rummage listed pay raises for all city employees, citing that some received more than a 4 percent raise.

“We can account for every tax dollar that has come through this city,” said Ellis. “I’m not focusing on the stink this raises. I’m focusing on making the city better.”

Rummage signed up to speak during the meeting, reminding the council that the recent ad was from her. She said taxpayers needed to know about the raises, mentioning the mayor and council said 4 percent raises “across the board.”

“I believe that the taxpayers deserve to know exactly what kind of raises were given,” she said, adding that she had no problem with raises but that they were not across the board for all employees.

Ellis responded that this was not said, explaining that raises were across the board for city employees other than police and firefighters, who were paid to scale.

In a Jan. 21 Pioneer News article, Ellis said police and fire increases varied to make those positions comparable with other nearby departments. He stated that the 4 percent raises were for departments other than fire and police.

“We have been losing too many talented, trained officers and firefighters to other agencies,” he said in the article.

The increases included an additional police officer position, a new detective position and a school resource officer.

Rummage inquired about the calculation process of the raises. City attorney Joe Wantland said Rummage could not question the council.

“Are you here to make a statement or are you here to question?” he said. “If you’re here to question, then that’s not proper.”

Rummage reiterated that she placed the ad in the paper and stood by its contents.

Council member Dana Bischoff James, referring to the ad, said Rummage’s use of pay numbers offered by the Elizabethtown Police Department were not properly implemented.

“Your article is deceptive in the way you brought your numbers together,” she said. “It’s not fair that you tried to place a deceptive article into the paper in order to confuse, or bring negative light, into a growing city that’s doing great things.”

“No, ma’am, that’s not what they told me,” was Rummage’s response. James reminded Rummage that she was still speaking.

“I was completely under the understanding that this city was not giving 4 percent across the board, despite what you put in this paper,” James continued. “So when you  lied and tried to bring disgrace to the people who are serving this city, yes ma’am.”

“I think you’re trying to bring disgrace,” Rummage responded. “I did not lie about anything that I was told by these police departments.”

“I am sad that it takes four to five dollars (per hour) to bring our officers up to an industry standard,” said James. “That says a lot about our people who have stayed on our force and worked in the city of Shepherdsville.”

James mentioned that Rummage accused the council of not completing research on the raises prior to approval.

“Obviously we have,” she said. “Do you think that our department, our officers, should not be at industry standard?”

“They are above industry standard,” Rummage replied. “I’m saying that the taxpayers have a right to know. I’m not gonna argue the point, the numbers speak for themselves.”

Wantland mentioned the high number of Jefferson County law enforcement employees who came from Bullitt County. He said that local officers were taking their Bullitt County training with them.

“It’s not costing us to pay them,” he said. “It’s costing us to train them and then lose them. It costs taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

Wantland asked police chief Doug Puckett how much it cost to train a new officer. Puckett estimated between $60,000 and $70,000.

Council member Clinton Kline inquired about the inclusion of equipment in the price, and what was kept by the city. Puckett said there was not a lot the department could keep.

Puckett told the council that Elizabethtown officers started at a rate of $15.39 per hour, going up to about $22. In comparison, he said Shepherdsville started at $16.30 and topped out around $25.

He added that the average Shepherdsville officer made $21.94 per hour, but that higher officials averaged $26.75.

“The figures given today (in the ad), with the heads included, skews the average pay of the regular officer,” he said.

Ellis asked if Shepherdsville lost any officers to  Elizabethtown or Bardstown, the other city compared in the ad. Puckett said no, most officers left for Jefferson County departments. He added that pay was now comparable with those areas.

“We’re not gonna lose anybody for a couple dollars an hour,” said Puckett. “Seven or eight dollars is different.”

Puckett mentioned that police department had received an increase in application calls since the ads appeared in the newspaper.

“Now we’re keeping good people,” he said. “And this ad will help our recruiting.”