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Stalemate costs county


Sun, Nov 26th, 2000
Posted in

Monday, November 27, 2000

The case of Jane Doe

Jane Doe, obviously a fictional name, worked at the Fillmore County Health Department from 1982 until she retired in January 2000. An LPN, Jane worked as a receptionist, but also filled in as a nurse in the WIC program. In fact, she is still listed as a roster nurse and occasionally works in the WIC program when needs arise.

So, when Nursing Director Sharon Serfling recently found herself without a receptionist and needed a temporary person to fill in, she naturally turned to Ms. Doe.

Now, when Doe retired from her receptionist position in January, she was making $9.32 an hour, (equivalent to $9.55 per hour under the new compensation plan). She presently makes $12.68 as a call-in roster nurse.

But when the board made the decision to approve the temporary receptionist hire a few weeks ago, they authorized wages at Grade 1, Step 1, which is equivalent to $8.09 per hour.

So, the question Serfling had for the Fillmore County Board on Tuesday was, could Doe be paid at the equivalent level she was at when she retired, $9.55 an hour?

Commissioner Duane Bakke asked if this has been done before. Serfling answered yes, that there had been precedent where people who have left the county have come back to work at their previous wage levels. Both Social Services Director Tom Boyd and Auditor Angela Burrs, who were attending the meeting, confirmed that this had happened in their departments in the past.

Serfling argued that it would be unfair to pay Ms. Doe less than she made when she retired, referring to the $8.09 an hour at Grade 1 Step 1, and that the alternative would be to pay Doe at her nursing rate of $12.68 per hour.

Commissioner Donald Boyum said that it is better to hire someone "where you can get some production out of them rather than a stranger off the street" and made a motion to hire Jane Doe at $9.55 per hour. This was seconded by Bakke.

Because the item had not been on the original agenda and was added at the eleventh hour, Commissioner Helen Bicknese suggested that the matter be tabled until the next meeting. Commissioner Gary Peterson agreed that late items made things difficult for the board to digest.

County Attorney Matt Opat was asked by Peterson if the original motion of a few weeks ago, calling for hiring at Grade 1 Step 1, should be reconsidered or amended. Opat suggested leaving the original motion alone, and voting directly on the new motion put forward by Boyum.

Peterson asked for clarification on what the countyís policy on temporary hires was. County Coordinator Karen Brown said that the board sets the hourly rate for temporary, part-time hires in January. This year it was set at Grade 1 Step 1.

When the motion finally came up for a vote, Boyum and Bakke voted to pay Doe $9.55 an hour; Peterson and Bicknese, on the other hand, voted against the motion. Because Robert Underbakke was absent, still recovering from a recent stroke, the motion died in a two to two tie.

Normally this would be the end of the matter. But in this case there is a surprising twist to the end of the story.

Now, instead of paying Doe $9.55 per hour as Serfling requested, and Boyumís motion intended, the county will end up paying Doe her nursing rate of $12.68 an hour, for apparently doing reception work.

When Jane Doe gets her next paycheck, sheíll likely be surprised to find out that she has been given a $3.13 per hour raise, making her the ultimate winner in this bureaucratic stalemate.

Who says bureaucracies donít have their pluses?

Citizen Thompson: "Fix up Courthouse"

Robert Thompson, former 4th District Fillmore County Commissioner, came before the county board to discuss the future location of the courthouse. You may remember that an ad hoc citizens committee has recommended that the county build a new courthouse. They also recommended that it be located on a campus near the jail and new county office building. Thompson, you may remember, was instrumental in getting the county to build the new county office building on the north side of Preston in the first place.

"Well, you (board) always complain that you donít hear from the taxpayers, so I am here as a taxpayer to talk to you," Thompson began.

"When the taxpayers built the new office building, the intent was to eliminate overcrowding in this building (courthouse.) It also took care of the parking congestion. This is a good courthouse, itís got a good roof. I know you have the problem with asbestos, but you donít take down a house because it needs a little brightening up. You can fix this up, put in a new heating system. I canít believe anyone would consider taking down this building. I see my tax statement is up 10% to 15%. We should be looking at cutting costs."

The board in turn briefed Thompson on the asbestos removal and elevator plans, which should be completed some time this winter.

Citizen Thompson finished by urging the board to eliminate some of the overnight meetings county staff go to.

"A lot of these meetings and conventions seem to be at swanky resorts Iíve always been against this. Given the technology of today, a lot of these could be eliminated.

The board thanked Thompson for his input and went on to the next agenda item.

Highway re-organization

Highway Engineer Steven Voigt was before the county board presenting his proposed plan for re-organizing the highway department. At present, Voigt has three vacant technical positions, due mainly to experienced staff leaving to work elsewhere for higher wages. Voigt hopes that through re-organizing staff positions and by increasing wages, the county will be able to compete in the marketplace for engineering staff.

For the most part, the plan calls for revising present positions, and clarifying lines of responsibilities. Voigt would create an Engineering Aid/Intern level position, where persons with little more than a high school diploma would be hired to work under close supervision doing some of the more basic tasks. This position would be temporary and only used if there were vacancies in other technical positions.

Voigt proposes salary increases that would reflect increased responsibilities, with wages being increased $1.50 to $2.00 per hour. Voigt believes that the wage increases are justified in that the department would not have to hire as many consultants to cover essential duties.

The county board has already indicated its reluctance to change the salary structure, given the recent compensation study carried out by a private consultant. The board took no action on Voigtís proposal, preferring to study the matter further.

DFO Community Corrections

Pat Carlson, from Olmsted County, briefed the board on budget projections for the Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Community Corrections. Carlson said that DFO is anticipating a shortfall in the 2001 budget, and that, while the DFO Joint Powers Board has authorized using up to $150,000 in reserves, each countyís contribution to the program will need to be increased by 6%.

The board approved an increase of $6,038 in financial year 2001 to $106,663. Carlson said that if there is not an increase in state funding by July 1, then the organization may have to look at whether DFO should be disbanded.

By John Torgrimson

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