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Employees of the Town of Black Mountain who have not received free water service from the town during the current fiscal year will be compensated after aldermen passed a budget amendment during a special called meeting on March 20.

The board voted unanimously to allocate $21,125 to pay 67 employees who did not receive the same benefit that was given to those who lived within town limits.

Town manager Josh Harrold informed aldermen, during their regular meeting on March 11, that he had recently learned that the longstanding practice of providing employees who live in town with free water was “outside of the town’s authority.”

Harrold was unable to determine when the town began offering the benefit, but aldermen stated they believed the practice had been in place for at least 40 years. The board voted 5-0 to end the practice, which amounted to an average of $20.52 per month for the 16 employees receiving free water.

The subsequent meeting was called to “make it right for the employees who were not getting that benefit,” Harrold said to open the session.

“So we will have several employees getting checks, because it will be retroactive back to July of 2018?” mayor Don Collins asked.

Each of the eligible employees will receive a check for around $180, according to Dean Luebbe, the assistant town manager and finance director.

“We’re taking into account employees that weren’t employed by us on July 1, so we’re not paying them for that time,” he said. “If a person started with us in December then they’ll receive enough to cover three months.”

Harrold said passing the amendment would serve as “a way to make it equitable for everyone who was not getting the benefit.”

Alderman Larry Harris, who disclosed having received free water from the town when he served on the board in the 1980s, made it clear that providing that benefit was not permissible.

“We were told by legal counsel, and town legal counsel agrees, we cannot do this the way it’s been done,” he said. “If it were legal it’s something we could think about, but it isn’t.”

Harris then made the motion to approve the amendment.

“This provides funds for those who now need to pay their water bill and funds for the other employees in a like manner,” he said. “So, yes I’m certainly in favor of this, the way it’s presented.”

Employees eligible to receive the the retroactive payment would see that money on their upcoming check, Luebbe told the board.

“Then, the next check after that, everybody will see about a $9 increase on their checks because they would be getting a raise of roughly $20 per month,” he said. “That’s going to make everybody square.”

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