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Putnam assessor's raises questioned

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County commissioners expressed frustration Tuesday over raises that county Assessor Sherry Troyer Hayes gave employees in her office.

Even though they admit what Hayes did was perfectly legal, commissioners said the move could be frowned upon by other county employees.

"Our challenge is to keep pay equitable," Commissioner Joe Haynes said. "When something like this is done it skews everything."

The raises Hayes handed out ranged from 5 percent to nearly 8 percent and were in addition to the 1.25 percent pay raise county commissioners handed out at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Commissioners have traditionally approved a 2.5 percent employee pay raise but scaled back this year because of a troubled economy.

Brian Donat, county manager, said Hayes handed out about $36,000 in raises to her 19 employees.

Hayes said in a telephone interview that she didn't do anything another department head wouldn't have done if they had the money. She also noted she still has about $15,000 left in her budget. Donat said it's unusual for department heads to use 100 percent of their budget.

Hayes explained that she believed she could afford the raises after two women in her office retired, requiring others to take on additional responsibilities.

"I felt like since I had the money, everyone deserved a raise," she said. "To me it was a win-win situation."

Commissioner Steve Andes warned that in the past when department heads have approved their own raises, commissioners would strip them of the annual raise they normally grant.  

Hayes said she and her employees understood that.

Hayes recently won re-election against her former boss, D.W. "Peachie" Arthur, who served as assessor in Putnam from 1997 through 2008. During the campaign, Arthur accused Hayes of playing favorites after the 2008 election by handing out raises to employees who supported her election bid.

Hayes denied the accusations.

In other business, commissioners announced that work on a project to alleviate Hometown's flooding problem is complete and should solve the water problem for at least 20 years.

Hometown is wedged between the Kanawha River and Little Guano Creek. Railroad tracks that sit several feet above ground level run through the town, placing most of the houses in a flood-prone bowl. The ditches along the tracks are filled with years of silt runoff.

In 2010, commissioners approved a $12,000 cost-sharing agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to help figure out what is causing the problem.

The engineers determined the easiest and most cost effective temporary solution would be to simply clear the town's ditches and drains.

"I think we should draft letters [to residents] letting them know the project is completed and it's up to you to keep those ditch lines cleaned," Andes said.

Commissioners have tried to persuade Hometown residents to form a homeowners' association or incorporate so they'd be eligible for grants and could mandate residents clean out ditches on their properties.

"I think it's a large aging population [in Hometown]," Haynes said. "It's a problem for many of them to take a shovel and get out and start cleaning out the ditch line."

The corps study outlined a longer-term option, which is to redirect a channel near the northern edge of town to carry rainwater along W.Va. 62 and into Little Guano Creek. That option could cost the county nearly $500,000.

"That's money we just don't have," Haynes said.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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