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By Carmen Ensinger
With the abrupt resignation of their water plant operator last month, the city of Winchester was forced to once again contract the services of Benton and Associates as their temporary water plant operator.
Following the retirement of long-time water plant operator Randy Ford several years ago, the city hired a new employee and sent him to school to get his license.
In the interim, the city had to use the services of a Benton and Associates employee and their water license to meet EPA requirements to do the testing and water reports at a cost more than $1,000 a month.
So, in addition to paying the fee to Benton and Associates for the use of their water license, they were also paying the new employee to work and get their license.
After this employee got his license, he was able to assume the duties of the water plant operator and the city could discontinue the services of Benton and Associates.
However, that employee recently announced that he was resigning his position with the city to take a higher paying job with American Water in another municipality, once again leaving the city without a water plant operator and facing the prospect of employing another individual and sending them to school to get their water plant license.
Until then, the city approved signing an agreement with Benton and Associates to provide the city with a licensed water plant operator that can work on a contractual basis for a term of up to one year at a cost of $1,150.
“This is set up for up to one year effect on Trevor’s last day of employment,” Benton and Associates Greg Hillis said. “This monthly fee includes spending time helping your new employee learn the procedures prior to the testing for certification, doing the reporting and submitting it to the EPA. He is supposed to take the test on Jan. 3, so this could be a very short term agreement.”
Because of this situation and the fact that the city spent so much money sending an employee to schooling to learn a job and then that employee left the job for employment with another municipality, the city was considering making an amendment to their employee handbook that would require employees who received training at the city’s expense to sign a contract agreeing to work a specific period of time commiserate to the amount of money the city spent on their training.
City Attorney John Paul Coonrod didn’t agree with this, however.
“First of all, you need the employee to sign something when you first hire them,” Coonrod said. “The employee handbook only becomes effective when they are hired.”
Coonrod thinks that rather than having some specific verbiage contained in the employee handbook, the city should have a specific contract with each individual employee that is hired that the city puts through training for their position.
It is quite common, especially with police departments who put officers through the police academy, to ask their officers to sign a contract to work for the city for at least two years to pay the city back for the money they spend putting them through the academy.
This issue is specifically relevant now because the city approved hiring Chase Burk as a full-time police officer, pending his graduation from the Police Academy very soon.
“I really don’t have any concern that he would do something like this to us,” Winchester Mayor Rex McIntire said. “Because he is a hometown boy and I think he intends to stay around here, but we need some kind of policy on the books for other employees and I don’t think he would mind signing something to this effect.”
However, such a contract is only as effective as a city wants to enforce it. The city of White Hall put an officer through the Police Academy and he signed a two-year contract to work for the city, yet only worked a little over three or four months for the city before leaving to take a job with Carrollton, who offered him more money per hour.
Police Chief Caleb Handy said with Burk graduating from the Academy soon that he should have more officers actually on duty on the weekends instead of on-call on the weekends.
McIntire said this was good news because he had gotten some complains about some calls not being handled properly.
“There was a death in my family so I had to take the week off last week to go to Florida and I had to use a part-timer because I didn’t have enough full-time guys,” he said. “He received a call and did not respond to it. I spoke to the woman and she was very unhappy about it. This new schedule with Chase on it is going to allow me to schedule more flex for emergencies so this issue won’t happen again.”
The council approved the hiring of Burk, pending his graduation from the Academy, at a rate of $16 per hour, for a probationary period six months, at which time his rate of pay would raise to $16.50 per hour.
There has also been an issue with dispatch not giving the calls to the officers. Several reports of an intoxicated individual were called into dispatch by at least three different people, but when the officer was asked about it that morning, he said he never received a call about the individual.
McIntire said perhaps the city needs to sit down with the county and dispatch and discuss the handling of calls because there were cases of JULIE calls also being mishandled or not passed along as well.