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'It's almost an unsolvable problem'; Elected officials discuss worker wages

The Henry County government is in charge of making sure the roads are kept up, the public drains flow clear and the jail is safe for inmates and officers alike.

The courthouse keeps land deeds, divorce decrees and meeting minutes safe and organized.

The Justice Building houses voting records and court transcripts, the prosecutors and the public defenders.

Along with running the business of the people, the Henry County government is also itself an employer, writing checks to hundreds of workers each month.

Like nearly every employer these days, the Henry County government is facing calls for higher wages. And when those wages don’t show up, watching employees leave.

The Henry County Council and Commissioners met in a joint work session on July 15 to have frank and open discussion about worker pay. The audience was filled with county department heads and employees.

“With everything going on in the country, with wages rising quickly, we really are trying to figure out what we’re going to do to address the problem,” Council President Susan Huhn said, opening the meeting.

Councilman Clay Morgan had said during previous discussions about worker pay that the local officials keep talking about the problem but don’t really have solution for it.

“That’s true,” Huhn said, asking Morgan, “Have you had any thoughts since then?”

“Not really,” he replied.

Morgan said he’s talked with several county employees who understand the financial realities, “but obviously they would like something to be done.”

Adjust insurance plan?

The county council had been investigating different options over the past few years to help lower costs and possibly free up more money for raises.

One such idea that was suggested even before Covid hit was to cut spouses out of the employee health insurance plan.

Councilman Chad Malicoat found that could save the county $300,000 to $500,000 a year.

Commissioner Bobbi Plummer reached out to some county workers to see what they though of that idea.

“They see it as ‘if you’re taking away my benefits to give me a raise, then you’re not really giving me a raise. You’re not giving me anything. You’re taking something away,’” Plummer said.

Morgan said county employees have told him they would rather things stay the same than lose benefits they currently have.

At the same time, they cannot ignore higher pay offered at other jobs around and outside of Henry County.

“We are losing staff right now. And some of those departments are vital to government,” Morgan said.

Fees, internal changes?

Some county departments, like the Health and Memorial Park departments, have the ability to increase fees to raise the money they use to pay employees or run their areas.

Morgan said other departments have been able to make internal changes to find more money to pay their people, rather than use extra money from the General Fund.

“The problem is I also understand we have some departments that don’t have any availability to do anything because they solely operate through General Fund,” Morgan continued.

He said the council welcomes “creative solutions” as they approach the 2022 budget sessions.

There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to save the entire county workforce; different departments could find what works for specifically for them, and the total savings could help the county as a whole.

Seeing the need

“I know every day what you’re facing,” Councilman Harold Griffin told the department heads and staff members. “I can see where you’re coming from as a group of county workers.”

Griffin was a former county employee as a law enforcement officers and then as Sheriff.

“People are leaving. We don’t want that,” he continued. “I know the sheriff’s department, for instance, they lost some good deputies because they couldn’t pay them what they felt like they had to have. And it’s the same way with some workers over here (in the courthouse).”

Griffin did not let the audience forget the current realities that deputies and cops face each day they show up to work, even in Henry County.

“Every time they go out, they don’t know what they’re facing. People have to realize the danger of this job... This is not an easy job, especially nowadays. So I can understand entirely what you feel,” he said, looking to Sheriff Ric McCorkle in the audience.

Griffin also acknowledged the stress other county workers feel, pulling 10-hour days to take care of court records and payroll and road repairs.

“This is not a simple solution,” he said.

‘An unsolvable problem’

Commissioner Ed Tarantino said he talked with a county employee before the meeting who makes about $35,000 a year. Their take home pay is closer to $20,000.

“They kept repeating ‘How can you live on $21-22,000 a year?’ That’s a hard question to answer,” Tarantino said.

Tarantino knows prices are rising everywhere. Gas prices. Lumber. Fast food. Rents and home costs. He also knows Henry County has very low paid employees in a lot of areas.

“Obviously, if you’re on a fixed income and you’re not making a whole log of money, things are getting tougher and tougher and tougher,” he said.

Referring to the council, he added, “I really believe the people up here are trying, turning over every rock they can to figure out a way to make things better... It’s almost an unsolvable problem.”

During his talks with employees, someone suggested to Tarantino that retiring employees could be replaced with technology, rather than new people. While this option wouldn’t help the jail, it could help with bookkeeping or the clerk’s office.

He also heard an idea of departments cross-training so they could share staff members and move them around as needed.

“What it really comes down to is how much the taxpayer is willing to pay to get county services,” Tarantino said. “There’s no easy way to solve these problems.”

The Courier-Times will continue coverage of the joint work session in upcoming editions.

Wednesday afternoon, former Henry County Sheriff Butch Baker, who now serves as director of the Henry County 911 Dispatch Center, unveiled a plaque memorializing the late Kim Cronk. The plaque is located on the Henry County Courthouse lawn, at the corner of Race and 12th streets. More than 40 people attended Wednesday’s dedication ceremony to honor Cronk, a long-time Henry County public servant who passed away Sept. 7, 2020. A full story about the ceremony, along with additional photos, will appear in an upcoming edition of The Courier-Times.


JAG teacher honored at board meeting; Freshman orientation set for July 29

This week’s Knightstown School Board meeting was the last of the summer. All seven members were present Tuesday night at the Knightstown High School library.

The first item on the agenda was the recognition of Robin Gregory, who has been giving hours and hours to the Knightstown High School kids.

Gregory was being honored for her efforts as a JAG Specialist.

JAG stands for “Jobs for America’s Graduates.” It is a nonprofit youth development program dedicated to helping at-risk young people graduate from high school and make successful transitions to postsecondary education or meaningful employment.

Gregory was named one of five JAG Specialists of the Year in the state.

The highest score a JAG program can earn is a 5. Gregory has only had a 5 since she has been at Knightstown. The Knightstown JAG program is the only program in the district to continuously score a 5, according to High School Principal Steve Wherry.

Gregory has made an impact on many children’s lives, including this reporter.

Wherry brought Gregory up to the podium during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Robin attends more student activities than anyone in the building. Constantly putting in hours wherever she can and we can’t thank her enough for what she does,” he said.

Superintendent Jediah Behny followed Wherry, telling Gregory, “There’s people who just have a knack for making a big positive impact on kids, and you have it.”

New school year

Moving to the next agenda item, Behny announced that over 800 students had registered for the 2021-2022 school year so far. The registration has been online and Behny has said that it’s had a huge impact and made it a lot easier.

Behny also added that the facilities are almost ready for the first day of school.

In other news, Knightstown announced that they received $5,500 from donations for the high school football program. The board members shared their praise and gratitude for the donations.

Freshman Orientation for the Class of 2025 has also been planned. The event will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, July 29, at the Knightstown High School Cafeteria.

The Board also had to renew its bus driver report and accept its personnel reports. Both were accepted 7-0.

The Knightstown School Board meets again on Aug. 17 at the Knightstown High School.

Local Verizon store giving away backpacks full of supplies

Round Room, LLC. announced Tuesday that its TCC and Wireless Zone stores are donating 140,000 backpacks full of school supplies during its ninth annual School Rocks Backpack Giveaway.

Since its launch in 2013, the School Rocks Backpack Giveaway has provided more than 1.2 million backpacks full of school supplies to children across the U.S., ensuring they are well prepared for the start of the new school year.

Nearly 750 participating TCC and Wireless Zone stores – including the New Castle location at 111 S. Memorial Drive – are inviting local families to their locations on Sunday, Aug. 1, between 1-4 p.m. to pick up a backpack filled with pencils, paper, a pencil box, folders, a ruler and glue.

One backpack per child present will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.

For a list of participating stores, visit www.locations.tccrocks.com/search and wirelesszone.com/backpack-giveaway.

Each participating store will donate up to 150 backpacks. Any leftover backpacks will be donated to local schools.

Each store location will adhere to local and CDC guidelines to provide a safe environment for event attendees and store employees.

“The start of the school year is an exciting time, and we are thrilled to support the education of the youth in our communities through our School Rocks Backpack Giveaway,” said Scott Moorehead, CEO of Round Room. “By providing families nationwide with essential school supplies, we’re easing the back-to-school shopping burden and helping set students up for success.”

According to the National Retail Federation, American families with school-aged children spent an average of $789.49 on school supplies in 2020 – totaling $33.9 billion spent in America last year on school supplies alone. Round Room is working to ease the strain of rising school supply costs through its annual program.

Supporters of the School Rocks Backpack Giveaway are encouraged to use hashtags #SchoolRocks, #BetterTogether and #BackpackGiveaway on Instagram and Twitter to help spread the word.

To learn more about TCC and Wireless Zone visit www.RoundRoom.com.

Local Briefs

‘Cook for Your Gut Health’ cookbook winner announced

Congratulations to Jessica Hall of New Castle, winner of the “Cook for Your Gut Health” cookbook. The Courier-Times appreciates everyone who took the time to enter either by phone or email.

– Staff report

‘Scourge’ novel winners announced

Congratulations to Pam Crabtree of New Castle and Ed Hill, also of New Castle, for each winning a copy of “Scourge: The Kiss of Death” by Mooreland author Terry Watson Marsh. The Courier-Times appreciates everyone who took the time to enter either by phone or email.

– Staff report

Regional waste district meets Friday

The South Henry Regional Waste District meets at 2 p.m. Friday, July 23 at the district office, 301 South Williams St., Lewisville.

– Information provided