"Where Fillmore County News Comes First"
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To pay or not to pay


Sun, Aug 27th, 2000
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Monday, August 28, 2000

The county board seemed to wade through one administrative dilemma after another as it met last Tuesday in its role as Fillmore County government’s top managers. Still haunting the board in the execution of its duties is the ever-persistent mystery of how much money to pay county employees.

Salary issues topped the agenda as the board wrestled with a request from county auditor Angela Burrs to increase the salary of an account technician in the auditor’s office. The request was generated because Burrs just hired two new account technicians for her office, but at a pay step higher than the other account technician’s step. The higher rate for the new employees was based on their experience, a justifiable action under the county’s new Bjorklund pay plan, but the other account technicians in the auditor’s office have equal, if not greater, experience.

Fearing a domino-like effect from other employees, the board was reluctant to grant the increase, worrying that all account technicians in the county system would require a similar step increase.

Turning to county attorney Matt Opat for a solution proved to be even more discouraging. While Opat advised that the county could terminate the employment of the new hires in their probationary period, then re-hire them at a lower step, he also seemed to advise against that action as it could bring a lawsuit.

"I don’t see how we can change an offer to an employee after acceptance," argued commissioner Robert Underbakke. "We shouldn’t terminate during probation because it is our mistake."

Realizing that the discussion was holding up other agenda items, chairman Gary Peterson said that they would return to the matter later in the meeting.

Libraries
During committee reports, commissioner Helen Bicknese reported that the joint library board had met to discuss the 2001 funding request for the seven libraries in the county. With full funding for the libraries being at $148,638, and the county’s budgeted amount at $130,000, the joint board is requesting a compromise amount of $137,000.

As commissioner Bicknese explained that the libraries are now using a median cost of circulation for all seven libraries in their budget considerations, commissioner Underbakke seemed unimpressed and even somewhat bothered by the funding request.

"They spend and spend and expect us to pick it up," exclaimed Underbakke as he made it known that he was not in favor of any increase in their budget. The board will take the request under consideration.

Visitors
•Marc Sather of the Southern Minnesota Tourism Association came before the board to present his request for a piece of the county’s budget pie. Historically, the county has given the tourism group five cents per capita for the purpose of funding the marketing of this area as a destination for travelers. Sather informed the board that southern Minnesota is the #2 destination for tourists in the state, second only to the Twin Cities. Crediting grassroots development of tourism opportunities in the area, Sather noted that the Root River Trail and the area’s natural bluff beauty are two reasons why other areas look to Fillmore County as a model for developing a tourism market. The board thanked him for his presentation and noted it would take his request under consideration.

•Recycling coordinator Sandra Benson sought approval to conduct a special household hazardous waste collection event on October 4. Commissioner Helen Bicknese said that she would like to see an exchange program enacted at the event to help defray the costs to the county, but was informed by Benson that logistically that wouldn’t work as it would require too much time and manpower to sort through good paints and bad paints. Benson is soliciting volunteers to help direct traffic on the day of the event. Three board members volunteered.

•Sheriff Jim Connolly was the next visitor on the agenda but was preempted for a quick minute by the county engineer, Steve Voigt. Voigt requested and received permission for an overnight stay in St. Cloud to attend a Transportation Alliance annual meeting.

Back to Salaries
Sheriff Connolly presented the board with a study he had conducted on his own salary. Connolly reported to the board that his salary was below the average of other elected sheriffs in the area, and also noted that if he was under the Bjorkland pay plan, as non-elected county employees are, then he would be making a higher salary. After a brief discussion of his study, chairman Peterson thanked him for the report, adding that the board would "look it over."

Reluctantly, the board returned to the pay issue with the new hires in the auditor’s office. Fearing the opening of the proverbial "Pandora’s Box," or even the more homespun version: "a can of worms," the continued discussion centered around the mistake made in allowing the new hires credit for experience.

"They may have experience in other places, but not in our auditor’s office," argued Commissioner Underbakke.

Responding to this, chairman Peterson announced, "This is a case where we may have to do something else (in the future) with regard to experience. We have to be an employer who keeps his word."

The focus then seemed to shift to what costs the county may incur if it raises the other account technicians up to the next pay step. A brief quantitative analysis by coordinator Karen Brown revealed that at least 3 employees would be affected and that the salary difference per employee was $2,080.

An eerie silence settled in the room as the clock struck 42 minutes after the noon hour. What at first was thought to be moans about more costs and bad decisions actually turned out to be stomachs growling for dinner, and at the recommendation of commissioner Duane Bakke, the board decided to postpone action on the matter until the September 5 meeting.

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