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Words fly in MW battle over hazardous duty pay

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By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON — The debate over whether Mount  Washington Police Department new hires will be reinstated into the state’s hazardous duty retirement system continued at Monday’s city council meeting. 

Mayor Joetta Calhoun halted the reading of a resolution that, if passed, would have instructed the city administrators to petition the Kentucky Retirement System to reinstate the hazardous duty pensions for two Mount Washington officers hired after September 2008.

As of Sept. 1, 2008, any state agency hiring a new employee into a hazardous duty retirement position must petition through the state to have that employee’s position approved into the system. Employees hired before Sept. 1, 2008, that were already classified as hazardous duty under the state will continue to receive hazardous duty retirement without petitioning.

Although Calhoun initially said at a previous meeting that  the resolution would be required to petition the KRS for the status change, after further consultation with City Attorney Norman Lemme, she said an ordinance would be needed.

Councilman Larry Porter said he spoke with legal counsel at the Kentucky League of Cities and found out that a resolution would be enough to move forward with the request.

Lemme said that although the resolution would be enough to satisfy the KRS, he felt the city needed a binding contract such as an ordinance to protect the city in case of a possible legal battle.

Lemme said extra precautions also needed to be taken because the city fell under the state’s County Employees Retirement System and that no state system had been especially designated for cities.

He said counties and cities are governed differently, and therefore should be treated differently.

“What Kentucky retirement accepts or what other cities do is not my responsibility,” Lemme said. “When you’re talking about entering a contract, it needs to be binding.”

Councilman Dennis Griffin said the mayor’s request for an ordinance was a stunt. “It’s just another delay tactic. I know she’s going to veto it, so we just have to have the fifth vote. She’s very determined for it not to come through and I’m very determined for it to come through,” he said.

Calhoun said after the meeting she was elected to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollars and didn’t believe reinstating hazardous duty retirement for the city’s officers would be financially sustainable in the future.

The KRS Board of Trustees does not meet to set next year’s retirement contribution rates until November and the city does not have to make a decision  on the issue until January, according to the mayor.

Calhoun said a KRS representative would be at the next meeting to speak with council members about the decision.

Griffin said it doesn’t matter what any experts say — he is still going to be in favor of reinstating the hazardous duty retirement for all officers. He and other council members Porter, Dale Walter and Lloyd “Shot” Dooley previously supported the reinstatement while council members Gary Lawson and Barry Armstrong were against the reinstatement, claiming they didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision.

Walter said previously he believed that occupational tax dollars and other revenue areas would help the city comfortably pay for the hazardous duty retirement employer’s contribution rates.

Calhoun said after researching national trends and getting estimates from agencies such as the Kentucky League of Cities, she didn’t feel she could support a measure that might break the city.

“Sometimes that’s not a popular thing to do but I wasn’t elected to be popular,” she said.

The council is slated to have a first reading of the ordinance at its meeting this Monday, 6:30 p.m. at the City Hall Annex on Branham Way.