A ruling outside of Winchester might have ramifications for a lawsuit between the city and local firefighters.
Earlier this week, The Somerset Commonwealth Journal reported that an administrative judge ruled in favor of the city of Somerset in a case similar to one Winchester faces.
Winchester, like Somerset, is embroiled in court cases over back pay owed to firefighters. The disagreement stems from a change in directions on how to calculate overtime pay. Those instructions came directly from the state's Labor Cabinet, which altered the way firefighters were to be paid overtime on incentive pay in 2004.
The change was overturned by the Kentucky legislature in 2009, but municipalities across the state still owed five years’ worth of back pay.
City leaders in Winchester and Somerset are among those from several Kentucky cities who argued that the original payments were made in good faith and contained no wrongdoing on their part.
In 2007, the Labor Cabinet pursued the money for the firefighters’ benefit, but 10 cities — including Winchester — filed suit against the Labor Cabinet, citing the cities’ immunity to such lawsuits. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in the Labor Cabinet’s favor, putting the cities on the hook for the back pay.
The Supreme Court backed the firefighters in 2011, but the ruling in Somerset could give the cities new life.
In 2010, Somerset officials made an appeal in administrative law court. Assistant Attorney General Micheal Head conducted the hearing and, after two years, offered a recommendation to drop charges against the City of Somerset.
Head argued that the firefighters had acquiesced to the pay from 2000 to at least 2005 to the original calculation of pay.
How this alters the current suit for Winchester remains to be seen. Head's recommendation was released just last week and while persuasive, Winchester City Attorney William Dykeman said, doesn't set a precedent for future rulings.
Dykeman also said the continuing legal battle isn’t about denying firefighters pay but protecting public funds.
“Winchester is crazy about its firefighters,” he said. “But by the same token, we're talking about taxpayer dollars. The City Commission has the obligation to make sure they don't spend that money if the firefighters aren't legally entitled.”
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