Metro-East News

St. Clair Township lays off its five road department employees

From left: Attorneys John Hipskind, and far right, Brady McAnich of Hipskind & McAnich, LLC., and St. Clair Township Highway Commissioner Skip Kernan (center) talk to a reporter in June 2015 about a township issue with a sewer services contract. Kernan recently laid off five employees in the St. Clair Township Highway department. The layoffs took place after a budgetary dispute between Kernan and township trustees.
From left: Attorneys John Hipskind, and far right, Brady McAnich of Hipskind & McAnich, LLC., and St. Clair Township Highway Commissioner Skip Kernan (center) talk to a reporter in June 2015 about a township issue with a sewer services contract. Kernan recently laid off five employees in the St. Clair Township Highway department. The layoffs took place after a budgetary dispute between Kernan and township trustees. Belleville News-Democrat file photo

Employees in the St. Clair Township Highway department have been laid off after a budgetary dispute, preventing them from fixing potholes and clearing culverts, among other duties, the highway commissioner said.

St. Clair Township Highway Commissioner Skip Kernan said his five employees had to be laid off because the township trustees at a March 11 meeting refused to allow him to transfer $36,000 of unspent road construction money in his budget into a wages line item used to pay employees.

On Friday, Kernan sent out a robocall to township residents notifying them that his workers had been laid off and would not be available to plow streets, fill potholes or perform other services on the township’s 60 miles of road. The township, and its non-continuous roads stretches from Green Mount Road to Belleville West High School and from Frank Scott Parkway, to Park Road.

Kernan said he spent $2,000 in township highway money on a robocall telling residents of the service cut.

“I’ve got to notify my residents there is no service,” Kernan said.

Kernan said the layoffs are in place until further notice as the township is preparing its budget for next fiscal year, with a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

St. Clair Township Supervisor Dave Barnes said Kernan put himself in this situation.

$36,000 Amount requested by St. Clair Township Highway Commissioner Skip Kernan to be transferred from road construction into employee wages

Last year, when the 2015-16 fiscal year budget was being prepared, Kernan had asked the township board to make room in his budget to hire a fifth highway employee. The board refused and chose to have more money available to fix roads, Barnes said.

“I feel bad for his workers,” Barnes said. “He’s (Kernan) put them in a situation they don’t need to be in. It could have never happened if he had done what was right.”

Kernan, who was elected in April 2013 when he defeated previous highway commissioner Mark Burk, hired the fifth employee. As of March 7, the line item set aside for his employees’ wages had exceeded what was allocated for the fiscal year, which runs from April 1 through March 31.

“I needed a fifth employee,” Kernan said. “It is at my discretion as highway commissioner to add and/or subtract employees.”

Kernan asked trustees to transfer unspent money from the road construction line item, including $36,000 for wages, and $2,000 for Social Security and Medicare contribution.

As of March 7, road construction expenses were more than $100,000 under budget, according to documents obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Kernan also asked to transfer $8,500 from a $10,000 contingency line item into a line item to pay for Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund contributions, documents say.

Kernan said maintenance such as filling potholes and sealing cracks in the road helps save money in the long run by preventing water from getting underneath the road.

“The money is there, the money is in my budget,” Kernan said. “It is legal to move money from one line item to another, as long as it’s not over budget.”

Kernan said transfers were made at Barnes’ request and transfers have been done all the time.

“Why would you do it for one, but not the other?” Kernan said.

Kernan said previous road commissioners in St. Clair Township had five to six employees.

Kernan added he believes he was not allowed the extra money because of political reasons.

The money is there, the money is in my budget. It is legal to move money from one line item to another, as long as it’s not over budget.

Skip Kernan, St. Clair Township highway commissioner

However, Township Trustee Keith Sturgis said similar transfers are allowed because they are smaller amounts. Kernan had requested a $36,000 transfer.

At the March 11 meeting, trustees did approve transfers of $11,000 into engineering costs, $18,000 into general insurance, and $15,000 for wages, among others, that Barnes requested.

Barnes said there was a $22,000 insurance premium payment for last fiscal year that was paid this fiscal year, and additional engineering was needed for sewer line work.

Sturgis also pointed out that Barnes hired an additional employee, but had to lay off that person because he didn’t have the money to pay the employee.

Sturgis said he initially didn’t support allowing Kernan to have a larger budget to hire an additional employee because he believed he had enough employees.

“He was told by trustees that we did not want to hire another employee,” Sturgis said.

“I don’t believe he needed the fifth employee because he contracts out all of his major road work,” Sturgis added.

He knew the money wasn’t going to be there. The money wasn’t there and a majority of the board thought he had enough employees and he could spend money to fix roads ... Now, he’s trying to blame someone else for his mistake.

St. Clair Township Supervisor Dave Barnes

Sturgis said Kernan was allocated enough money to operate with the four people he had on staff.

“He knows what our wishes were,” Sturgis said. “He decided, without asking us, to hire another employee with full benefits.”

“Mr. Kernan can do a lot of things himself, but he cannot transfer funds from one line item to another,” Sturgis added.

Sturgis added he has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure line items stay within budget.

Barnes said the township cannot pay if there’s no money left in the line item for the fiscal year. On March 11, when it came time to vote on whether to transfer money to allow for the additional wages in the highway department, a motion was made but it died for a lack of a second.

“He knew the money wasn’t going to be there,” Barnes said. “The money wasn’t there and a majority of the board thought he had enough employees and he could spend money to fix roads.”

“Now, he’s trying to blame someone else for his mistake,” Barnes added.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

To attend

  • What: St. Clair Township 2016-17 Budget Hearing
  • When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: The St. Clair Township Office at 107 Service St. in Swansea
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