2009-12-03 / Front Page

County freezes wages

By Glenn Schicker glenn.schicker @houghtonlakeresorter.com

Roscommon County Commissioners Wednesday approved a wage freeze for non-union employees, laid off a part-time register of deeds worker and reduced the working hours of an equalization department employee, but rejected proposals to cut the working hours of their administrative assistant and an MSU Extension worker.

The wage freeze for 2010, unanimously approved, applies to all county employees except members of two sheriff’s department unions, whose contracts will expire at the end of next year.

The part-time register of deeds employee will be laid off Jan. 1, and the hours of the equalization department worker will be reduced from 35 to 21 July 1, commissioners decided in another unanimous vote.

However, 3-2 votes rejected budget and finance committee recommenda- tions for the other two positions. Commissioner Ken Melvin said Administrative Assistant Robin Seymour is a “valuable asset” and an “immense source of information.” He said she assists the other departments, in addition to county commissioners. “If she’s not there, I’m going to be handicapped in doing my job as a commissioner,” Melvin said.

Melvin added that in view of “rumors” that Commissioner Ed Nellist will step down as chairman next year, a new chairman might need more help. He suggested delaying a decision on reducing hours for the position until June.

Joining Melvin in voting against the motion to cut Seymour’s hours were Commissioners Marc Milburn and Pam Stephan.

The same three commissioners voted against the motion to reduce the hours of a clerical worker in the MSU Extension office from 35 to 28. Stephan said she was concerned about the loss of $8,200 in federal funds for the Family Nutrition Program that would result from reducing clerical hours. She added that $5,000 in MSU funding helps offset the clerical employee’s pay.

In meetings Wednesday and last week, commissioners approved a change in the health insurance plan for county employees. Unions representing E911 and sheriff’s department workers agreed to the change to a Blue Cross HMO plan and with improved vision coverage. Melvin questioned why the county should grant a more costly vision plan, but Controller Cheryl Mollard said the current plan is no longer available. She said the overall cost of the health insurance change is $86,000 less than a plan from another insurance company the county considered. However, she said eight employees who had been taking payments in lieu of insurance have signed up for the new plan at a cost of about $76,000.

After Wednesday’s votes were taken, Commissioner Bob Schneider, who serves on the budget and finance committee with Milburn, said, “Two words that I haven’t heard today [are] fiscal responsibility.” He said counties must reduce expenses in view of declining revenue.

Milburn reiterated his suggestion of requiring employees to take two unpaid furlough days a year. Mollard responded that employees of law enforcement related departments could not be required to take furlough days. That would leave only about 20 eligible workers, with a savings of about $3,000 for two days, she said.

Mollard told the Resorter the budget and finance committee’s recommendations had reduced a $726,000 deficit in the county’s 2010 general fund budget by about $200,000. A public hearing and commission action on the budget are scheduled for Dec. 16.

Looking to the future, Mollard told commissioners they should consider early next year changing from a defined benefit retirement plan to a defined contribution plan for new hires. She said the change eventually would reduce the amount the county pays for retirement from 12% to 5% of wages.

In other business, commissioners Wednesday voted to move two juvenile detention center employees who have been working 32 hours a week to full-time. Mollard said the cost will be largely offset by fewer hours for parttime employees at the center.

Last week, commissioners, in a 4-1 vote, approved the hiring of Steve Nielsen, Houghton Lake, as maintenance director at a salary of $35,000. Melvin, the dissenter, said outgoing Maintenance Director Greg Brown’s starting salary $30,000 rose to $35,000 after four years. Mollard said Brown’s current salary is $37,000.

Commissioners voted, 4-1, to meet as a committee of the whole when their insurance committee meets. Schneider cast the negative vote. Commissioners unanimously voted to allow all agents to bid on health insurance in the future.

Commissioners adopted stormwater management standards for the county and approved an agreement to transfer $50,906 in expired 2006 federal funds for Blodgett Memorial Airport to St. Clair County International Airport. Airport Manager Eric Jaroch said the funds were not used due to miscommunication with the Michigan Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, and if the funds were not transferred to St. Clair County, they could go to an airport in another state.

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