Columbia County panels rank job requests

August 18, 2018

As Columbia County officials heard appeals Friday for new employees or extended hours for existing employees, one theme – too much to do, and not enough people – echoed through each department head’s presentation.

The County Board’s Executive and Human Resources committees heard and prioritized the job requests, to guide the Finance Committee which will prepare the county’s 2019 budget.

The committees considered 11 personnel-related requests, involving more than 25 Columbia County jobs, with a total cost of $710,067 if all requests were to be granted.

Human Resources Director Joseph Ruf noted that not all the costs would come from property tax revenue. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services recently got about $60,000 in state money, and proposes to use that to cover part of the cost for a new social worker. And the Columbia Health Care Center, where a dietary crew leader has been requested, uses no tax money for its operations.

But the two requested new sheriff’s deputies would be paid for with county tax dollars – and the $79,796 requested for each of them covers wages and benefits, but not vehicles and equipment.

Det. Lt. Roger Brandner, who is running unopposed in November to succeed retiring Sheriff Dennis Richards, said the department needs two patrol deputies more than it needs two lieutenants – one for the jail, one for the patrol midnight shift – that the department also requested.

“We’re a fairly large county,” Brandner said. “And I think the deputies are a more urgent request at this time.”

When Supervisor Dan Drew of the town of Pacific asked how the county’s citizens are affected, Brandner had a long list.

Because of increased state requirements for handling drunken driving arrests – including getting a warrant for a blood draw from an accused perpetrator, and waiting for the blood to be drawn – one case of driving under the influence can easily consume four hours of a deputy’s time.

Also, deputies are often taken off patrol to transport defendants, leaving less time for police work, according to Brandner.

“Some investigations we don’t get to, because we don’t have the deputies for them,” Brandner said

Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard said her requests for a new social worker and a new supervisor in the Division of Children and Families reflects increasing challenges in addressing cases of children in need of protection.

Eighty percent of such cases, she said, involve adults under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. The number of such cases has more than doubled in the last five years, Woodard said.

“We’re dealing with things like unemployment, violence and addiction,” she said.

Clerk of Court Susan Raimer said she was not asking for any new positions, but rather increases in weekly work hours, from 37.5 to 40 hours, for 15 employees, 10 of them deputies in her office.

The 37.5-hour week for full-time employees is a holdover from when most county employees were represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees – a situation that changed with the 2011 passage of Act 10, which curtailed most public employees’ collective bargaining right.. Several county departments have tried over the years, with mixed success, to persuade county officials to make a 40-hour week standard for a full-time employee; cost is usually the barrier.

Raimer said it would cost an average of $3,000 per employee to add 2.5 hours to their week, but it would make a world of difference in their ability to handle court cases.

Mandatory electronic filing of court documents has increased their workload, according to Raimer, because people can now file cases at all hours, every day – and it’s not unusual for workers to come into the office on a Monday morning with dozens of documents, filed since Friday evening, waiting to be processed.

Judge W. Andrew Voigt said many people who work with the courts think, incorrectly, that a document is automatically processed and available to interested parties the second it’s filed electronically.

“They hit ‘send’ and expect that it’s gotten to me,” he said.

The members of the two committees ranked each request independently, and their rankings were tabulated to establish which requests have priority.

Ruf said this does not mean that any of the requests, even the top-ranked ones, will be granted.

The Finance Committee will review the requests as part of its budgetary deliberations in September.

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