Martins concerns

Martin Council Member Bonita Compton, second from right, voices concerns about city finances during a recent meeting. Council members Charles Justice, Gary Akers, James Reynolds, Mayor Sam Howell, City Attorney Doug Adams and Harold Case are also pictured.

The Martin City Council did not conduct much business during its regular meeting last week, but the council did vote to approve a “cost of living adjustment” for themselves and employees.

The council did not review or approve bills at the Nov. 26 meeting, and a vote to approve the agenda passed with Council Members Harold Case and Bonita Compton voting against it and Council Member April Gayheart abstaining.

A vote to approve minutes from the council’s last meeting in September failed, however, in a vote, with Gayheart and council members Charles Justice and Gary Akers abstaining, Compton and Case voting in opposition and Reynolds voting for it.

The only action taken at the meeting other than the approval of the agenda was approval of a “cost of living adjustment” for employees.

Compton, the only council member who voted against the payment, voiced concerns because council members were not told how much it would cost the city.

“How can we give a cost of living adjustment when we do not know our budget?” she asked. “We do not know what we have and what we don’t have. I mean, I’m all for the people getting a cost of living adjustment, but what is the cost of living adjustment that you’re projecting to give them?”

Reynolds and Gayheart also asked for the total cost for the bonus.

When the question was raised by Reynolds, Mayor Sam Howell said, “No. I didn’t figure that up. I know what the — I’d have to get the paper on what they give every year for the last-”

Compton interrupted him.

“I mean, folks, we can’t, you can’t spend money if you don’t have, know you got it or not,” she said.

Reynolds asked Howell if he believes the city can afford the bonus.

“Yeah. It’s in the budget. We’re operating on last year’s budget, so it’s in there for it,” Howell said.

When Compton voted against it, she said, “Let it be on record that I am not opposed to giving anybody a raise, but we need to see numbers before we give out. We need to pay our bills first.”

Gayheart said she wanted her vote to be contingent on whether the money was available. Council members told her she could only vote for it, against it or abstain.

“Do we have the money for this?” she asked.

Howell told her it’s in the budget.

“It’s in the budget? I’ll vote yes,” she said.

Compton reported after the meeting that council members are included on the cost of living adjustment. She and others described it as a one-time bonus payment to employees, and Howell said it was a flat rate paid to employees.

When asked the amount of the flat rate, Howell said he could not explain it. He said he had the documentation at his home and could not remember how it was calculated.

In 2018, the “cost of living adjustment” increased wages for all council members except Gayheart and Howell from $91 per month to more than $400, and city check registers recorded payments of identical amounts to employees.

For example, one employee received $661.27 on one check and $661.28 on the second check on Nov. 9, 2018, while another employee received checks totaling $480.70 and $481.71 that day.

In other news, the council tabled a request from Summit Engineering to approve a letter that would select the company for engineering services related to the city’s redevelopment project.

“Summit’s worked for the city, probably, since 2010, and Army Corps of Engineers has called me on multiple occasions and asked questions — Where’s this? Where’s that? How does this work?” said Kevin Howard of Summit Engineering. “And they indicated to me that in the near future they would have some plans, some specs for the utility project and that you guys would need to be represented by an engineer to view those. And so basically, there’s a letter there from the city saying that we’ve worked with you previously and you like to work with us and, of course, we’ll try to make that happen.”

He told the council that by approving the letter, the city would not incur any financial obligations because if the Corps doesn’t pay for it, “then, it’s not happening.” He said the funding would flow from the federal government through the City of Martin, however.  

He reported that a company called AECOM has prepared plans and wants Summit Engineering to review them and share input from city officials.

“Basically, we would be your representative,” Howard said. “We would be your professional representative.”

Kentucky bidding laws do not pertain to professional services like engineering, but the council decided to table the matter, with officials reporting the need to seek bids for services.

Howard told the council that Corps officials indicated that bidding was not required for the professional services contract, calling it a “due diligence for sign-offs.”

City Attorney Doug Adams voiced concern about approving the contract, noting that Howard did not provide a cost estimate for the company’s services and the possibility that the fees would exceed state bidding law requirements.

“Here’s my opinion,” Adams said. “I think you need to find out, at least a ballpark, as to what the Corps intends on spending and what your fees would be ... The concern is that if it goes over the fiscal year spending, you know, the $30,000, is that they would be required, the city would, to bid it. I’m sure they don’t want to put themselves in a situation that, that might happen.”

Howard said his company does the same type of projects for the  highway department and bids are not required, and Adams asked for a “ballpark figure” on the contract. Howard explained that the company would just be reviewing items that Martin will own after the project is completed, like water and wastewater lines.

“Do you know, does the Corps have a final relocation plan?” Adams asked.

Howard said a Corps official informed him the plan is mostly complete.

“There’s just so many unknowns,” Adams said. “And I agree this is kind of a contingent letter.”

Howard offered to get answers about questions on the costs.

The council also tabled a request from Howard to seek Request for Qualifications for the package plant elimination project, which is also part of the city’s redevelopment project.

He said this part of the project would expand Martin’s sewage services to May Valley Elementary and Warco Housing, and well as more than 40 households along the road way from the city to those areas.

“So, it could substantially increase your customer base because you don’t have a whole lot of customers to spread your costs over. It’s becoming very small,” Howard said.

He said planning for that part of the project would take place in committee meetings, not council meetings.

The council retired into closed session for nearly two hours, with officials reporting they would discuss litigation and personnel. No action was taken upon their return.

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