Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh on Monday denounced as baseless a legal claim made against her by the county’s controller that she improperly paid a subordinate overtime.

The claim, filed in June by Controller Margaret Reif, seeks to recover more than $67,000 paid to Lt. Harry McKinney, a deputy in Welsh’s office and her longtime companion.

Reif said that the money, paid to McKinney in the last three years as head of the sheriff’s K-9 unit, was “unearned and unmerited,” and that caring for the dogs should be part of his on-the-clock responsibilities. She further accused Welsh of using the pay to pad her household income.

In a response filed Monday, Welsh’s attorney, William J. Gallagher, denied that characterization. He said McKinney was made head of the unit because he is the most qualified member on the staff. And, he said, McKinney is entitled to overtime under federal law given the scope of his duties.

“It is admitted some K-9 animal care was included in part of the regular workday," Gallagher said in the filing. But he said animal care is required around the clock, including evenings and weekends, so K-9 deputies are entitled to extra pay.

Reif has contended that McKinney is considered an entry-level employee by payroll standards, but has duties similar to administrative-level employees in an arrangement that is “abnormal and inconsistent with county policy.”

Gallagher, in Monday’s filing, said McKinney’s experience with training police dogs and long tenure in the department warrant his expanded duties. He noted that McKinney bears the rank of lieutenant as an “honorary title” because of his work under Welsh’s predecessor, Robert Erling.

The back-and-forth over payroll is set against the backdrop of another argument over the county’s K-9 unit. In the fall, Reif subpoenaed financial records from the unit, raising concerns about the way the unit and its members raised and spent money.

The investigation was referred to the office of the state attorney general, who has said little on the matter. Its status remains unclear.