County employees may see salary freeze in 2004

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Marion County employees may be facing a salary freeze in 2004 if the area’s economic situation does not improve during the coming year.

Commissioner Howard Collett suggested a freeze during Monday’s commission meeting discussion about wage increases for part-time employees.

“We can’t continue to do this with things continuing the way they are,” he said in reference to an average 3.6-percent wage increase for full-time county employees that was approved at a previous meeting for the 2003 budget.

He said continuing to raise salaries of tax-supported workers without adequate increases in revenue would be acting “just like Washington, D.C.”

Commission Chair Robert Hein said it was too late to discuss a salary freeze for the 2003 budget, but it could be discussed in the coming year when the 2004 budget is written.

“Some counties are going that route,” Hein said.

In the meantime, Commissioner Leroy Wetta’s motion to raise the salary paid to part-time employees by a comparable 3.6 percent was unanimously approved.

“If they’re part of the group, then let’s treat them like part of the group,” he had argued earlier. “I’m not ready to say our part-timers are less important than our full-timers. I’m not ready to slap them in the face.”

While raising salaries of part-time workers, Wetta’s motion also negated special salary considerations that had been forwarded for some unnamed salaried employees.

The discussion about salaries reflected projections that the cost of employees’ insurance packages could increase by 15 to 20 percent next year-bringing the average package for life, health and dental to just under $4,000 per employee. The county employees about 96 people, the commissioners were told.

In a related issue, the commissioners agreed that salaried workers who work overtime should be reimbursed with comp time, not overtime pay. County Clerk Carol Maggard suggested the county’s employment policy-manual statement on this matter be revised to state that policy more clearly.

On another matter, the commissioners accepted a suggestion from Loretta Klose that the county’s Attendant Care Program be shut down for the immediate future because of a lack of funding.

Klose, who had directed the program, said the Juvenile Justice Authority had decided not to apply for a grant to support intake services. Without intake services, the ACP program could not receive juveniles.

“If we want the Attendant Care Program, the county will have to pay for it,” she said.

The program had been receiving $6,000 in grant money when it was launched.

Klose recommended the program be shut down for now, then reopen at a later time “once intake is established and (law-enforcement) officers are more educated” about the program.

Hein said finding $6,000 for the program in 2003 “is impossible.”

“If the money is there (later), and we can keep it, that would be wonderful,” he added.

The commissioners continued the process of reviewing budget requests for 2003. In the course of discussion, department heads raised other issues.

Dianna Carter, county appraiser, submitted two recommendations regarding employee job descriptions that would not affect salary.

One recommendation to identify oil and gas appraisals as part of a field appraiser’s job passed unanimously; a recommendation to change the title of an existing position to “office manager” passed 2-1, with Collett in opposition.

“It’s a distinction without a difference,” he said.

Michelle Abbott-Becker, director of the communications and emergency management departments, alerted commissioners that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s “Kansas Trauma Plan,” which was passed in 1999, would likely have financial implications for Marion County in 2004.

The plan would require the county to supply an “emergency medical dispatcher” who would provide medical instruction to persons on the scene of a trauma prior to the arrival of an ambulance crew.

Because the medical instruction would be ongoing and could not be interrupted, the county would need to provide an additional dispatcher to receive other incoming calls while the EMP was occupied.

Abbott-Becker said the training and continuing education for an EMP would cost around $12,000, not to mention the cost of an additional employee.

She said the statute was in place, but KDHE so far had offered no guidance on how a county should implement it. She said the Kansas Association of Counties, of which Marion County is a member, likely will be discussing the issue at its next gathering.

Abbott-Becker also described the financial quandary facing counties in the light of costs related to providing mandated equipment so counties can better handle 911 calls from cell phones.

Under the proposed system, the county would be charged 45 cents to $1.35 per cell-phone call to reimburse the telephone companies for the state-mandated equipment.

An alternative system would establish a central agency to receive the money, and then disburse it. Abbott-Becker said that alternative may not be favorable for rural counties.

Janet Griesel, an extension associate from Kansas State University, presented the commissioners with her study of revenue and expenditures by Marion County in comparison to comparable counties.

Opting to give commissioners time to read her full report, Griesel did not go into specifics, but did say she selected 14 comparable counties based on population-seven with more people and seven with fewer.

Griesel said making direct comparisons was risky because of varying circumstances, but she noted, among other things, that Marion County ranked first in road and bridge expenditures, ninth in general expenditures and employee benefits, last in expenditures per capita for public safety, and fifth in property tax revenue and in sales tax.

The report also indicated that Marion County ranked last in per-capita income, and had the second lowest increase in per-capita income from 1995 to 2000.

“This is a lot to chew on here,” Collett said. “It makes you stop and think. You appear to have done a very good job, Janet. It will be very helpful.”

In other matters, the commissioners:

– accepted a bid from Great Plains Computers & Networking of Marion for $1,413 for a new computer, and a bid $2,356 for two new wooden storage cabinets for the register of deed’s office.

– authorized the Road and Bridge Department to buy a 60-inch Tiger mower deck for a cost of $7,953, as projected by Ross Livingston, a salesman from Salina who was on hand for the meeting. The county’s mower deck “shelled out” late last week, commissioners were told.

– accepted the following fuel bid from Cardie Oil, Inc., of Tampa: 3,500 gallons diesel fuel for Tank No. 3 at a price of $1.0077 per gallon; 1,500 diesel fuel for Tank No. 1 for $.7617 per gallon; and 3,500 gallons of unleaded gas for $1.1297 per gallon. Total bid: $8,623.45.

Cooperative Grain & Supply’s total bid was $8,731 for the same order.

– met in executive session for a telephone conversation with Jim Kaup, the county’s attorney for solid waste issues, and later with County Attorney Susan Robson. No public action was taken.

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