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New proposal for vacation/personal time, hospital employee raise still questioned

POSTED November 2, 2017 9:39 a.m.

DARLINGTON – A subcommittee of Human Resources made up of county employees was created to look at recruitment and retention of employees in the county. This group looked at the job loss over the past years and presented its findings to the joint Finance/Human Resources committee on Thursday, Oct. 26.
In 2015, the county lost 70 employees; in 2016, it was 93 employees and as of Oct. 20 the county has lost 84 employees in 2017.
Laurie Neis, Child Support Administrator for Lafayette County, stated that the committee looked at the cost of recruitment, training, and advertising and what the county’s benefit package looks like compared to other counties.
 “How do we not only attract employees to come here but keep them here so that we are not a training ground for other counties because training is extremely expensive,” Neis informed.
The group looked at a neighboring counties package and took their vacation time, frontloaded it so the employees here would be able to use two weeks of vacation up front after their probationary period of 6 months but if they leave within that first year, they would have to pay back the vacation. Currently in the handbook, employees are given three personal days, no matter how long they have worked there. The group decided to prorated the personal days. Neis said that the option may seem like an expense but it hopefully will save the county in the long run by keeping employees here.
 “If the raises aren’t there, the time off would hopefully incentivize people to want to continue to stay here and continue their work. With the changes in the vacation and personal days, our committee strongly feels that we are incentivizing the people. If we go to this structure, we feel this can be used for all management and every worker throughout the county,” Neis added.
David Hammer asked what they are giving up to receive this.
Neis said they didn’t look at it as what could they give up but what would it take to bring people into the county and to stay. She reiterated that the cost to train people is expensive and the constant turnover is never ending.
Kris Fleming, the Juvenile Intake Worker, said that the neighboring counties have a much higher starting wage than Lafayette County so this is a good compromise because the wage may never be.
Neis said they tried to be fair to everyone and looked at how this would affect the new employees, mid-range employees and those who have been here the longest.
Ludlum stated that society has changed and there are many single parents that before asking how much money is being offered, is when they are allowed time off or vacation time because it is being used on their children.
“If we can give these young parents that might have a couple of kids, and kids get sick, something that will recruit them to come here, I am all for it. We have to attract people, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
Lee Gill, a long time Public Health Nurse for Lafayette County, said that, “It isn’t the salary that keeps us here but the commitment to this county and it is the good relationships we keep up in our departments. Those are the people that stay and do the work and carry on, even when you department is really, really weak, we do assume a lot of additional duties but we are doing that willingly because we care about the county.”
Sauer said that five weeks is a lot of vacation to be obtained after 25 years but he added, “If you have been here 25 years, I guess we should reward you with something.” What he liked about the plan was they could gain more time quicker.
Sauer’s concern was whether the hospital or manor could absorb the costs of this plan. Finance Director Lindsey VanMatre said that the hospital would be able to absorb the cost within their budget, which would be about $18,000. Manor Administrator Peggy Rolli said that of the 94 employees at the manor, 83 would have to be replaced for their shift if they were to be on vacation. That would roughly cost the manor around $18,000. If the Sheriff’s union agreed to go with this plan, it would cost them about $12,000. This plan could cost the county about $130/employee.
Hammer was concerned about having five weeks off along with paid holidays. Neis explained that both Grant and Green Counties also have five weeks vacation for their employees so they would not be out of the norm in providing this plan.
Sauer suggested that they do accept the plan and add $5,000 out of sales tax to the Manor’s budget. Ruesga made that motion and Ted Wiegel seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.
Hospital employee raise
A motion was accepted at the Hospital Committee meeting to give Deanna Wright, a Clinical Application Specialist an additional $.50 raise on top of the already $1.50 raise that was agreed upon at the joint committee meeting on Oct. 20. Hospital Administrator Julie Chikowski explained that the other certified trainers are hourly and have the ability to work overtime where as Wright is salary and has donated many hours to the hospital and Chikowski wanted to see her compensated.
Tony Ruesga asked what exactly does her job title include.
“A person who supports EPIC within the house. Deanna and Nicole [Lewis] have been wearing those hats as part of their job duties since we went live on HMS. If someone is struggling within the hospital, they drop what they are doing and troubleshoot it. They train all the employees and new doctors,” Chikowski clarified.
Larry Ludlum explained that there was much discussion at the Hospital Committee meeting and he was very supportive of what is happening at the hospital.
Ludlum then made a motion to accept the additional $.50 raise, with Ted Wiegel seconding.
Ruesga stated that he respectfully disagreed with Ludlum.
“I don’t know if you realize this but we have already given a four percent raise to some of these positions. You are giving four percent raises to hospital employees when everyone else is getting a quarter. It doesn’t make any sense to me. You are handing out substantial [raises] to some but not all. You are hand selecting which ones. You are deciding what is more important based on the information that you have been provided. I don’t think a lot of research has been done with the exception of what I have done,” Ruesga said.
Chikowski reiterated that if the hospital didn’t have their own certified trainers and needed to hire someone, it would have to be someone that is an RN and EPIC certified. She said that Wright is getting the biggest raise because she is taking on two certification areas but is still within her wage range. The Hospital Committee agreed to go with the current EPIC model but could have gone with a much more expensive model, where it would have charged the hospital an additional $150,000 a year for trainers. She said they did hand pick those employees because they have the knowledge and expertise in those areas.
“We need to look at how do we best utilize our dollars and cents here. We are in a very competitive market. I’m sorry that the county got hit with this big hit financially this year but I think this is in the best interest of the county,” Chikowski rebutted.
Ruesga felt that these big expenses were not brought forward to the committee in the beginning of the process.
“This kind of stuff has to stop. It trickles in of ‘oh we need this, and this, and this’. When does it stop? What is going to happen when we prepare the 2019 budget? What is in the future? And that is kind of scary. The rest of the personnel are getting quarter raises because that is what we can afford,” Ruesga added.
Chikowski said that the committee knew there would be upfront costs. The hospital’s support costs for EPIC are going to be $350,000 a year or less.
Chief Deputy Troy Loeffelholz stated that Sheriff Reg Gill wanted the committee to know that the Sheriff’s Department has six super-users too and one read the Oct. 26 Republican Journal and asked if they would qualify for that same type of raise.
“Our super-users are all doing the exact same thing as Julie’s would be doing,” Loeffelholz informed.
“I think that is exactly where we are heading. You’re opening a Pandora’s box. We can’t keep paying people just because they take on a little extra because their job description has changed. If that’s the case then everybody is going to come in and say theirs has changed. I’m not saying they don’t all deserve this money but comparable to our tax base they are already getting a very good wage, more than everyone in the county,” Ruesga added in agreement.
Chikowski explained that her position is a certified trainer not a super-user. Loeffelholz said that the Sheriff’s Department has two certified trainers.
“Well, bring it forward,” Chikowski responded.
A role call vote was requested and the motion passed, 4-2, with Ruesga and David Hammer voting no.

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