Wednesday, Jan. 24

County board declares hiring freeze on all personnel          Send a link to a friend

Emergency and health department employees exempt

[JAN. 24, 2007]  Members of the Logan County Board quickly jumped to an executive session after they came together for a recessed, adjourned session on Tuesday evening. The meeting was primarily called to discuss the county coordinator position. An update and proposal for the 2005 audit problems was placed on the agenda for discussion also.

The board received a letter of resignation from Dewey Colter, the county's first coordinator of two-plus years, at last week's meeting. Colter said in his letter that he would stay in his position for as long as the board needed to make a decision and to train a replacement. However, the matter was not on the agenda, so the board could not discuss it that night.

When the board resumed open meeting, chairman Dick Logan said that the focus of the meeting was to discuss the county coordinator and the position of the zoning officer, as the two are connected. The board needed to decide if they would change it, continue with it or keep the zoning position separate.

He added that he was given a note from Mr. Colter saying that Feb. 28, 2007, would be his last day.

John Stewart asked Colter how he arrived at that date, five weeks away.

Colter replied that it was to allow transition time, and time for the board to make a decision as well.

The board voted 11-1 to accept this date of Feb. 28 for his leaving. Stewart was the one "no" vote.

Stewart made the next motion, for the county to issue a hiring freeze of all personnel.

A hiring freeze was not on the agenda to discuss.

A back-and-forth discussion ensued on county finances, the budget for the last year and the current unknown balance.

Stewart brought up that last year's budget was balanced on the expectation of selling county property of estimated $100,000 worth that didn't sell.

He also said that he didn't spend $86,000 that had been budgeted to buildings and grounds, but he didn't know what the other departments did that might have helped keep the county out of the hole.

Board member Pat O'Neill asked if all departments would be included in the hiring freeze. Bill Sahs said that it would not include emergency personnel, such as the Emergency Management Agency, 911 and the sheriff's department.

Vicki Hasprey said, "We should at least get someone in there for that zoning position." She recalled that Colter has been providing updates at planning and zoning meetings and that there have been a number of building permits in various stages of processing.

Gloria Luster asked Colter if he knew just how many permits might be in process.

Colter said that with what is out there we could end up with permits being completed all the way through February. "But there is no way to estimate what will be pending at what point in time," he said.

Stewart suggested approaching the Regional Planning Commission to pay the employee they have in the zoning office to do the extra work. Phil Mahler would be paid by the hour.

Former chairman Bob Farmer said, "Well, I think we need a coordinator. It is very important." He recognized the budget concern, "but I really do think we need to work one in," he said.

Pat O'Neill said that this year's budget was already passed with a line item that included the county coordinator salary. This wouldn't affect the budget. He asked: Why place the hiring freeze?

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Logan reminded him that when the budget was passed the current balance was still unknown and that the budget would be subject to change, including a hiring freeze. "We passed a budget, yes, but we don't know if we have enough money to fulfill our budget," he said.

The finance chairman wanted to clarify for the board members that the budget that was just completed will not be reflected when the audit is completed. That audit is based on the 2004-2005 fiscal year. The spending and saving or revenue that didn't come in as expected last year, such as the $100,000 and the $86,000, were in the 2005-2006 fiscal year and will not show in the audit that is coming.

So, we still won't know the budget balance, Logan said: "It's like writing a check without checking the balance."

A moment was taken to discuss the audit. There will be a meeting Thursday afternoon with Tectura, the company working with the county on getting the accounting entered into the computer system. There is another unforeseen problem, but even with that it is expected that the work would be completed and in the hands of the auditors on Feb. 5.

Ruben said that from there the auditors, Crowe Chizek, would need five to six weeks to complete the work.

The motion to issue a hiring freeze of all county personnel, except emergency personnel, passed 10-2, with Ruben and Sahs voting no. But that was not the end of it.


It was then recognized by questions from County Clerk Sally Litterly, who would be sending the notices to the departments, that a little more definition was needed as to just how far the hiring freeze would extend.

State's Attorney Tim Huyett weighed in, saying that this would not affect contractual, professional services that departments use. That is in their budgets. The freeze would apply just to personnel in the departments. He gave additional distinction: someone working for the county drawing any benefits through the county.

Ruben shifted the discussion. He likened the need to protect public health with the emergency services and said that the health department personnel should be exempt also.

Stewart thought that half the health department's money came from the county and half from grants, and that if they missed out on the grant money due to the late audit it would put the county in a deeper bind.

Ruben corrected this information, saying that the 10-cent levy by the county provides about $390,000 of the health department's $2,200,000 budget. They have positions paid by state and federal funding over and above grant money. He said, "I think we would put them in a bind if someone quit in one of those programs."

The health department was added to the exemptions, with Aylesworth, Sahs and Stewart opposed.

The final decision was to place a hiring freeze of all county personnel until the completion of the 2005 audit, with exemption for emergency personnel (911, EMA, sheriff's department) and the health department.

No resolution or further discussion about the county coordinator position took place. The freeze implies that there will not be a new coordinator for the time being.

[Jan Youngquist]

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