After waiting for nearly 40 minutes for the County Commissioners to join the work session on wages and benefits for county employees the County Council conducted the meeting without them.  The council had wanted commissioners to join the work session but the commissioners were in a health insurance meeting with a vendor and unable to attend.

During last week’s council meeting, Highway Superintendent Jason Peters said he is having trouble hiring employees and he fears he will lose several due to the fact that other companies are “head hunting” his staff and offering large sign-on bonuses.  He suggested a $4.00 wage increase for his staff.    

During the work session Sandy Garrison, Director of the Marshall County Museum said they have lost 2 of their 8 employees over the last 2 years and was not able to hire a good employee due to wage and benefit concerns.  Suggestions included offering insurance benefits on the first day of employment, for vacation time it was suggested not having to wait a full year before being allowed to take vacation, and flexibility in scheduling and work from home options. 

Marshall County Coroner, John Grolich said the workload over the past couple of years has exponentially skyrocketed.  He said, “Demands that the state has put on coroners and the office have skyrocketed.”  He asked the council to consider moving the Coroner’s position to a full-time position rather than a part-time position and reflect that with an increased salary.  He noted the requirement of certifications to do death investigations and the requirements for 16 hours a year for continuing education have come about over the past several years.  Grolich said, “We are getting worked to death.”   

Sheriff Matt Hassel discussed the struggles his department is going through with the hiring process.  He said during the last two hiring processes he had 13 candidates with only one being a certified law enforcement officer and during the most recent hiring process only 7 applied and no one had been to the academy.   Sheriff Hassel said, “We are not staying competitive.  I’m not talking private sector; I’m talking about other government entities to be competitive.”  He suggested looking at an increase in the clothing and or equipment allowance and less restrictive travel in their take-home vehicles.

For an example, in pay the sheriff said a first-year patrolman at Plymouth makes $29.12 hourly at Bremen it’s $29.30 plus a $.15 hourly for the night shift.  A first-year patrolman with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department makes just over $25 an hour.  The sheriff said he has lost 6 civil employees to other departments in the county because they don’t have to work nights, weekends and holidays.  Some even took pay cuts for their new positions.

Angie Birchmeier the County Treasurer told County Council members, “My only comment would be to treat the county employees at the same level.  Don’t take one department and raise them above everybody else.  We all have an important role to play.”  She also commented on the vacation policy of not being able to use vacation time until you’ve completed your first year.

Councilman Jon VanVactor explained that the vacation policy is set by the commissioners, the number of days and when they can be used.  He said the flexibility of scheduling is in the personal policy and can be handled by the department head. 

Councilman Jim Masterson said some people won’t stay with the same job for 20 years.  They decide they are unhappy and move around more. He said benefits are just as important as the hourly wage.

Councilman Heath Thornton said stipends were mentioned last week at the council meeting.  He said while the highway department got the conversation started with the CDL driver issues, “I have a problem singling out one department saying their license or certificate is worth a bunch more.”  He wants to hear from Waggoner Irwin & Scheele, the county’s HR Consultants to see if having a CDL license holds more weight in the point system. 

Councilman Masterson mentioned the certifications that are required in the Assessor’s Office and noted that those employees could make more money in the private sector. 

Assessor Debbie Dunning said the county’s longevity program is very important to her employees.  She said a level one or two isn’t too difficult to achieve but the level three is five courses and tough.  She said a stipend divided between 26 pays isn’t a lot of money.  She also said she’s lost 5 employees in the last 2 years. 

County Clerk Deb VanDeMark said, “It takes a long time to train some of these employees to do their positions, and when you lose them because they are going for more pay or whatever reason it is hard.” 

Councilman Jesse Bohannon said, “I think the tough thing is especially in the environment right now where we are seeing 9% inflation.  We are seeing such low unemployment.  We’re not just competing with the public sector.  For some of our most valuable jobs, we have to consider not just what is equitable but what actually will attract and retain people because that’s reality.  We can’t afford to have vacancies.”  He continued by saying, “If someone with a certain skill set can go somewhere else because of factors the county must address those factors.” 

Council President Mandy Campbell asked where the funds would come from if they do adjust wages and Bohannon suggested saving at least $3 million of the ARP funds to mitigate wage and materials inflation.  He said the ARP proposals were “nice but not necessary projects.”   She asked where the funds would come from after the ARP funds are spent.

Campbell asked, “If you value one department over another.  What happens when the other departments walk out and then we don’t function?”  Mandy said, “One department isn’t more important than the other.  All workers are important to make this county run.”

Bohannon’s suggestion was, “Look at those positions that are most in-demand in the marketplace where we have the most amount of competition for our employees.  Stipend those folks and make sure we can hold on to people.”

Councilman Masterson said he didn’t agree.  He said, “I don’t think you can pick and choose who gets a stipend.  You are going to have to do it across the board because you will have more people fleeing the workforce if they see other people that have been chosen to get a stipend.” 

Since it was a work session, there were no decision made.  The meeting was to allow department heads and elected officials to plead their case for their own employees and let the county council understand the issues they are facing.  The council is responsible for setting salaries and while the commissioners handle the benefits.