Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 2, 2013

Wurtland dissolving police dept.

Police chief terminated Friday

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

Wurtland — The City of Wurtland laid off its sole law enforcement officer on Friday night and will take action to permanently dissolve the police department next week.

The move follows the closure of SunChemical’s Performance Pigment plant, whose sewage treatment bill provided the bulk of city revenues.

The Raceland Police Department will be handling Wurtland’s law enforcement calls for the time being.

Wurtland’s elected officials informed Police Chief Phillip Piercy that he was being terminated just after 4 p.m. on Friday. Piercy has been the city’s chief of police for 19 years.  

Additional cuts to staff, including layoffs and reductions in hours and benefits, are likely, said city officials. Wurtland has four remaining fulltime employees.

Piercy said Friday night losing his job “was a surprise. They dissolved the police department and terminated me. They say they can’t afford to have a police department since PCI shut down.

“I knew they were talking about doing cuts and things of that nature. But the mayor assured me there wouldn’t be any surprises. That is exactly what I did get,” he said.

At the time he spoke, Piercy was in the process of returning the city’s police vehicles and other equipment to the City Building, including his uniform, service weapon and badges, as described in his letter of termination.

The City of Wurtland derived 96 percent of its revenue from the plant’s water treatment bill, said Mayor Donna Hayes. With the plant’s closure the city has been told by its accountant it needed to make a 50 percent reduction in its staff expenses.

City officials, she said, had no choice but to lay off Piercy. His salary and benefits were the most expensive at more than $70,000.

“We have been looking at the budget ever since PCI went out,” said Hayes. She said the Wurtland Board of Commissioners have been under tremendous stress since the announcement on Feb. 5. They have been working non-stop, she said, “to do what is right by everyone.”

The commissioners took the action to lay off Piercy on Friday during a special-called meeting. However, officials only provided public notice for a work session and did not provide an agenda indicating they would be taking any action.

During Friday’s meeting they approved a first reading of an ordinance to abolish the police department but after being informed by local newspaper outlets that they believed the action would be a violation of the Kentucky Open Meetings Act because it was not published in advance, instead set two special meetings for a first and second reading of the ordinance.

The special meetings will be on Sunday at 1 p.m. and Monday at 5 p.m. The ordinance abolishing the police department will be the only item on the agendas.  

Raceland Police Chief Don Sammons confirmed his department would be providing initial 24 hour a day, seven days a week law enforcement services in Wurtland initially under the two city’s existing mutual aid agreement. Raceland has provided these services in the past.

Hayes said eventually the city will have to contract for law enforcement services. Initial estimates are it will cost less than half of Piercy’s salary, or close to $30,000.

Wurtland Police Commissioner Jackie Ball said Greenup E-911 officials had also been informed of the change. Raceland will respond first then Worthington and Greenup, if needed, she said.

Hayes said a town hall meeting will be held soon to discuss with residents the city’s evolving financial situation. City officials are still uncertain exactly what the closure of SunChemical will do to city revenues as well as what changes will be needed to operate the massive waste water treatment plant.

Of immediate concern is that SunChemical makes its final two payments to the City of Wurtland for sewage treatment. Those two payments amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hayes said the city has no indication that SunChemical won’t pay their bill. “Up until now they have been good neighbors,” she said.

Wurtland officials do plan to travel to Cincinnati in the coming weeks to meet directly with SunChemcial officials, according to Hayes. She said she has asked the company to help the city with the cost of changing the sewage plant’s operations to residential services.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.