Pulaski Council Votes to Correct Improper Payment Made to Highway Department Employees

Confusion about checks paid to two Pulaski County Highway Department employees led to a heated debate during last week’s county council meeting. The first had to do with $2,500 paid to Secretary Jessica Rausch for her duties as asset management coordinator. Last month, council members agreed to transfer that amount into the department’s asset management services line item. Auditor Laura Wheeler then apparently paid the money to Rausch as part of her paycheck. She asked council members last week to adjust the salary ordinance accordingly.

But they pointed out that they didn’t actually stipulate how that money should be spent. “I thought it was just to put the money into the fund,” said council member Ken Boswell, “but it didn’t say that it was to pay it to anybody, to go to her, because that fund was at zero.”

“What did you think the money was going to the fund for?” Auditor Wheeler asked.

“It was for them to decide,” explained council member Linda Powers. “We put the money in that line item.”

“Right, and it went to Jessica,” said Council President Jay Sullivan, “and then, because it went to Jessica, we have to revise the salary ordinance, correct?”

“No, it was not a salary!” Powers replied.

While they all understood there was a possibility that money would go to Rausch, there was some disagreement as to whether that’s explicitly what they intended to happen. “They even said, ‘We don’t even know if we’re going to hire someone now,’” Powers pointed out.

“Because she kept saying in the meeting she didn’t want to do it, so they were going to have to hire a consultant,” Boswell added. “They had to have money in the fund to be able to hire anybody.”

“They asked for $10,000 for that, and you said no, you’d rather pay her $2,500,” Wheeler said. “That’s what was said in the minutes.”

Boswell and Powers said they never agreed to that, but council member Mike Tiede pointed out that he did. “Well, it was voted upon that way, and that’s the way it was,” Sullivan concluded. Council members felt that since Rausch was paid out of the asset management services line item, she should have been given a separate check and a 1099 form, rather than a paycheck.

The other case was similar. Back in December, county officials agreed to pay Head Mechanic Dave Meyer a $3,000 tool rental fee, to keep him at the Highway Department while technically avoiding a pay raise. Once again, Wheeler gave him that money as part of his paycheck, rather than a separate tool rental check.

In the end, council members decided that instead of amending the salary ordinance, they should simply correct the payment method. “It was paid on payroll, which I would like it to be paid with a check,” Tiede moved. “So the difference that they’ve received, they shouldn’t have gotten taxes taken out of it. They should receive a 1099 at the end of the year, the $3,000 and the $2,500. So I don’t know how we make it right, but it needs to be made so they get a 1099 and a paper check.”

Due to the confusion over council members’ intentions during their May meeting, the prior meeting minutes were just narrowly approved by a vote of four to three.