Inconsistencies in Knox County incentive payments raise questions

6:20 PM, Dec 22, 2011   |    comments
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Some Knox County employees get incentives for completing a course through the University of Tennessee, but differences in those payments from office to office are raising questions about how they are distributed.

The payments are the result of completing a state program the county has been part of for nearly 30 years called the "County Technical Assistance Service" or CTAS course.

It's designed to train county employees on how to access information about every area of government, including public records, taxes and legal issues.

The program was put in to place by state lawmakers in 1973 to give support to Tennessee's 95 counties.

According to Robin Roberts at the CTAS office in Nashville, some elected county officials make it mandatory for their employees to get certified and then renew every year. Otherwise, the program is voluntary. It is completed through classroom work, and on the Internet. An incentive, which can be anywhere between $1,500 to $3,000, comes with completing the course hours.

In Knox County, at least two dozen employees enrolled in CTAS this year, but there are some questions about if incentives were paid fairly throughout county offices.

Employees participating in the program, and getting the incentive, work in several offices, with a majority working in the trustee's office. A dozen there, including Trustee John Duncan, got paid $3,000 each for participating in CTAS. This year, six of those employees had not finished course hours when Duncan approved their incentive payments.  

He said those employees, who were paid a total of $18,000, were going through the program for the first time, which takes longer to complete. The incentives are paid out of fees collected from the public.

"The website, which is used for online courses, was down and unavailable, and so for some of the employees who were diligently pursuing completing this work, it was important for them to do so without the website being made available. It's now up and running," explained Duncan.

Three employees in the Register of Deed's office are also going through the program for the first time. They have not completed their hours, and Register of Deeds, Sherry Witt, said they won't get the incentive until they finish.

Each office that collects fees uses that money to pay their own salaries. The catch is they have to sue the Mayor for the money, and whatever is left over goes back into the county's general fund.

The Trustee's office suit for this year originally said employees could get $3,000 for "completing" the CTAS program. Back in October, 2011, they amended the suit to say "each employee that completes or pursues with reasonable diligence."

The new language allowed Duncan to authorize payment to employees who had not finished the course, but who had started it. He said he did that because of the computer troubles with the CTAS system.

Duncan said the six employees who had not completed their CTAS hours at the time they received their incentive have now finished the program.

Other offices choose to pay their employees less than $3,000 for completing or renewing the program, and some employees who are CTAS certified do not take the incentive at all.

The state kicks in money to pay for incentives for each elected official who takes the course. That amount this year is $1,363. The rest of their payments are supplemented through office fees. 

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