Salary Crisis: Employee at Kenton Circuit Clerk Needs Government Assistance

The Kentucky Senate's appropriations and revenue committee listened to presentations about the state budget and funding for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches Tuesday morning.

The House passed the biennial state funding plan already, but the Senate is expected to make changes. In the Senate plan, approved Tuesday by the A&R committee, House-approved tax increases on cigarettes on 50-cents per pack and on opioid prescriptions, were removed, for example. The Senate's plan for $22 billion budget includes taking $300 million from state workers' health plan ($100 million more than proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin) and aims to save $37 million for the state prison system by not reopening two private prisons.

There are no tax increases in the Senate plan, which also adds 3.3 billion into the state's ailing pension systems, the Herald-Leader reported.

There is good news for struggling employees of the state court system - but with a catch.

According to the Courier-Journal, the Senate's budget for the judiciary would make at least $8.2 million available for judges and circuit court clerks - but only if the General Assembly passes the pension reform bill, which as of late last week, appeared to be dead.

The need for for money in the judiciary isn't needed for the top elected and appointed people, but for the rank and file employees, Kenton County Circuit Clerk John Middleton said. He testified before a House panel last month on the issue and was joined by a deputy clerk from his office, Danielle Brooks, who described herself as a single mom who has to keep a second job just to make ends meet, but still falls short.

She and her two daughters receive food stamps, she said, adding that that "can be embarrassing at times." "Even with that, I coupon and budget but still I am always behind and we go without sometimes," Brooks told the House committee. "I don't waste money or spend frivolously. I am very thrifty and spend only what I must.

"There have been times when my oldest has asked me why I am always working and we still afford anything. It kills me. I can't afford extracurriculars for my daughters, so when my oldest daughter's friends are in Girl Scouts, soccer, basketball, or dance lessons, and she asks why she can't, I am forced to tell her that even though mommy works very hard to support us, it's still not enough."

Brooks moved to a less expensive apartment, she said, saying that her salary made it difficult to be approved by apartment managers.

"For Christmas this past year, (my kids) would have not gotten anything if it weren't for the generosity of the Covington Police Department and a very kind friend from the Kenton Circuit Court nominating me for assistance," Brooks testified. "Even today for my daughter's birthday, she will get some cupcakes and some homemade cards and decorations her sister and I made for her. But that is it. There just isn't money in the budget."

Middleton said that the judicial branch represents 3.4 percent of the state budget while employing 10 percent of the state workforce. "Salaries make up 88 percent of the court operations budget, meaning that any cuts directly hurt our people," he said.

"In my area of Northern Kentucky, we are in crisis," Middleton said. Statewide, 12 percent of out employees are below the federal poverty level. The problem is not that we are competing with the private sector - we shouldn't compete as government with the private sector. If we do, we lose big-time when it comes to salaries. The problem is, we are competing with other branches of government."
Middleton said that a pre-trial officer in the Court of Justice makes $7,000 less than a probation and parole officer in the executive branch.

Middleton talked to The River City News publisher Michael Monks about the issue for an episode of Northern Kentucky Focus on 106.7 WNKR. Listen: