GLASGOW – Right-of-way mowing will be done “in-house” by Barren County in 2020-21 rather than the county contracting with someone to do the work.

The decision to do the mowing in-house was made during a Barren Fiscal Court meeting July 30 with a vote of 6-2 when the fiscal court voted to purchase two John Deere tractors and two John Deere bush hogs from Wright Implement at the state contract price of $122,486.

Whether to do the right-of-way mowing in-house has been something magistrates have discussed quite often recently.

Magistrate Trent Riddle said: “It’s time to make a decision as far as I’m concerned. I’m done with it. I’m done talking about it.”

But before fiscal court could vote on the purchase, Magistrate Carl Dickerson asked if the county needed to advertise for bids to purchase the equipment.

Fiscal court doesn’t have to take bids if the purchase is being done via state contract, and the estimate the fiscal court obtained from Wright Implement is the state contract price, Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale said.

Larry Hunt of Wright Implement participated in the video conference joint meeting of fiscal court’s administrative, budget and transportation committees July 29. He told committee members that Wright Implement is the state-approved vendor and can do the state contract pricing.

Still, Magistrate Kenneth Sartin didn’t think fiscal court should do the mowing in-house.

“I suggest we take bids on the mowing and then if we don’t like it then we buy the tractors,” he said.

Hale advised Sartin that if fiscal court decided to advertise for bids, it would take a couple of weeks before magistrates would receive any bids to review. The earliest that could happen would be Aug. 13.

“I’m just throwing that out there to you,” Hale said. “I don’t think mowing is going to be any cheaper than it was.”

Magistrate Billy Houchens, chairman of fiscal court’s transportation committee, said he thought the cost would continue to increase.

The current right-of-way mowing contractor is charging the county $184,791 for three mowings.

Riddle performed a cost analysis on the mowing of the county’s rights of way.

“The fact of the matter is people are saying we can mow for $36,000 or $38,000 (a year), which is not true. We can’t do that. That is labor cost,” he said. “According to my cost analysis it will cost me around $38,000 a year to mow for labor only. That’s labor and withholdings. We can mow for $65,000. The key to this is going to be finding help. That’s the only kicker about the whole deal.”

To find someone qualified, fiscal court would have to increase the pay for the job, he said.

“We got to make a decision here. We’ve tried it both ways (in-house and subcontracting),” Riddle said, adding he received complaints when the county did the mowing and when it was subcontracted.

The complaints ranged from mailboxes that had been destroyed to flowers that were mowed down.

During fiscal court’s joint committee meeting July 29, finding someone to do the mowing was also discussed.

“I really feel your biggest issue is going to be finding the help. As long as they are paying people money to stay at home and to make more money to stay at home, people are going to stay at home,” Hale said.

Many Kentuckians have been laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic and are receiving unemployment insurance benefits from the state, and until the end of July those who qualified were receiving an additional $600 per week through the federal CARES Act.

Hale said he thought the county would save money by mowing the rights of way itself, but he encouraged magistrates to think about the liability to the county when doing its own mowing.

Magistrates also discussed July 29 whether anyone employed by the county could do the mowing. Hale said he thought any of the county employees could do the mowing but said using those employees to mow would take them away from other duties, such as chipping and sealing of county roads.

“Hopefully, this new ordinance or resolution we accepted about hiring people out of the county will help some,” Magistrate Tim Coomer said.

Fiscal court adopted a change to the county’s personnel policy on first reading during its July 21 meeting. Fiscal court voted to remove language from the policy requiring county employees to live within the boundaries of the county within three months after their employment.

“Here’s something else. If you look, and I know the word nepotism comes up a lot, but a lot of companies are hiring family members. It may be something we could possibly look into as well,” Hale said.

He continued that the county is having a hard time finding people to work.

“Again that problem is they are giving people enough money to sit at home,” he said.

There is no broad state law addressing nepotism, however, but it is addressed through the state government’s executive branch in the ethics code.

“Essentially, it leaves it up to local government to decide what their policy on nepotism would be,” Barren County Attorney Kathryn Thomas said.

The issue of nepotism is addressed in the Barren County ethics code, which was adopted in March 2015, she said.

According to the ethics code, county employee family members can be hired to work for county government, but they can’t be given preference for a position if a more qualified person has applied for the same position. They also can’t receive pay or benefits in excess of any other employee with similar responsibilities.

The county ethics code also says no county officer can exercise direct management or supervisory authority over a family member, and no family member of a magistrate, county attorney, sheriff, county clerk, coroner, surveyor or constable can be employed by these elected officials’ offices. Employees working in such elected officials’ offices prior to the adoption of the fiscal court are excluded.

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