County commission, judges spar over probation salary increase; Coss: ‘Is this the hill you want to die on?’

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After over an hour of discussions that finally became arguments, Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels agreed — in a uncommon divided vote — to approve a wage enhance for a probation division worker.

The request — which, having been licensed by the judiciary already, was largely a formality — finally handed by a 2-1 vote, with Daniels dissenting. Though Britton gave some suggestions, Daniels primarily spoke in opposition to the request Wednesday, as mirrored by his vote.

Highland County Frequent Pleas Court docket Decide Rocky Coss, who requested to be positioned on the agenda to discuss the request, stated that the fee “made an argument out of nothing” after listening to their perspective.

“Is that this the struggle we have to choose?” he requested. “Is that this the hill you need to die on?”

Along with Coss, additionally attending the assembly Wednesday morning had been Highland County Court docket Decide Robert Judkins; Hillsboro Municipal Court docket Decide David McKenna; Highland County Chief Probation Officer Gary Breeden; and Highland County Probation Director of Programming and Scientific Providers Tonya Sturgill.

In line with fee clerk Mary Remsing, the probation division initially reached out to the commissioners workplace by way of telephone name to debate the pay will increase, then later “submitted payroll with the proposed raises.”

What was proposed was a rise in probation employees’s hourly charge, contingent upon receiving the identical grant funding for the division, as there was already sufficient cash budgeted to account for this enhance. The commissioners and Coss have joint jurisdiction over the division, a “distinctive” setup, as identified by the judges.

In line with Coss, “there can be found funds within the present biennial finances and within the anticipated 2022-23 finances to cowl raises for all probation officers, administrative and assist employees and would make the minimal hourly wage for line probation officers $16.50 per hour,” up from the present $14.50 beginning charge.

The division is allotted $70,000 from the county normal fund, in response to Coss, and the remainder of the division’s funding comes from grants. Coss stated that the division receives “about $550,000 a yr in grants and anticipates receiving $1,189,936 for the following 2022-23 state finances cycle.

The division was raises for all 13 workers, most of that are coated by way of the grants. Coss initially stated the grants coated all however two individuals, accounting for $7,280 plus fringe advantages for which they had been looking for fee approval. Breeden later clarified that just one worker’s wage enhance had not been accredited, as an administrative assistant beforehand paid for out of the final fund is now paid for out of grants. Coss stated the overall that wanted accredited can be nearer to $7,500 altogether (together with advantages) to cowl a probation officer who works in Greenfield.

“We have now the cash to offer everyone else, and clearly it wouldn’t be honest to offer raises to all these in grant positions and to not the one who’s doing the identical work,” Coss stated.

Within the occasion grant funding is lower, Coss stated the hourly pay charges of every worker can be lower accordingly, so there is not going to be destructive any impression on the finances. Coss stated the division additionally sought the opinion of Highland County prosecutor Anneka Collins and the county’s authorized guide for labor relations, Clemans, Nelson & Associates.

“The raises are conditional,” Coss stated. “We defined to the workers that they will solely be paid of the grant’s renewed, and in the event that they’re not, they’ll be lowered. I instructed Tonya and Gary to have them signal a paper stating that, however I additionally requested them to get authorized recommendation.”

Coss stated he hoped commissioners would “withdraw your objections and conform to this” pay increase proposal, however regardless, the choice had been made.

“It’s the court docket’s resolution, and that’s the resolution,” Coss stated.

McKenna instructed commissioners, “I don’t need to ship a message to the probation division that they don’t seem to be valued.” He praised the probation division, which he stated “has such an excellent operation that they’ve received recognition twice as one of the best small probation division within the state since I’ve been [judge],” with officers receiving particular person awards as effectively.

“At one level, years in the past, I valued the probation division to the purpose that I bypassed the final two months of my wage one yr and had Invoice Fawley switch it to the probation division after they had been in a finances disaster,” McKenna stated. “That’s how a lot I worth them, and I hope you all will worth them simply as a lot.”

Decide Judkins stated that he and the opposite two judges in attendance have seen different probation departments in motion whereas sitting on instances in different counties and echoed the opposite judges’ commendation.

“What Rocky and Dave are telling you isn’t BS,” Judkins stated. “That is the true stuff. Different counties can’t consider how lucky we’re to have an built-in county probation division.

“We’re so blessed that these specific individuals have been so profitable of their grants, acquiring cash in order that they’ve principally nearly self-funded this operation with the nice, invaluable assist of the county commissioners. However the outcomes have been beautiful.”

After listening to these and different preliminary feedback from the three judges, Daniels introduced a number of considerations, which had been addressed — and disputed — by the judges for a majority of the assembly.

“I don’t assume that anyone sitting round this desk undervalues the job that the probation division is doing,” Daniels stated. “I believe our objection stems from the truth that these are employees bonuses.”

Daniels learn from an e-mail the fee “obtained a yr in the past” on the subject of “employees bonuses” for the probation division, adopted by “nearly a yr to the day, a brand new e-mail” referring to “non permanent raises.”

“I don’t assume it’s clever coverage to be giving bonuses,” Daniels stated. “That is clearly — it seems to me — an try to get across the bonus query. You may disguise that is as non permanent raises, that we’ve gone and requested individuals to signal a paper saying that they’re going to offer it again if we don’t get that a lot cash, nevertheless it seems to me that that’s what the argument is right here.

“We’re giving employees raises, or bonuses, to individuals making $64,000 a yr, $46,000 a yr. I believe these salaries are above, in some instances, what a variety of county workers are making.”

Coss stated that he “would agree that bonuses aren’t good coverage,” though he identified that there’s “precedent established in [the commissioners’] workplace” after they licensed county worker bonuses a number of years in the past.

“Once they got here to me final yr, the rationale they had been granted as bonuses was as a result of we had the cash and needed to, once more, acknowledge these individuals had been being underpaid,” Coss stated. “It’s not something as nefarious as could be thought. It’s good coverage to make this stuff extra common, and that’s why I needed to do it this fashion.”

Sturgill stated that she “didn’t notice ‘bonuses’ was such a unclean phrase within the county” when she made the preliminary proposal.

“The e-mail a yr in the past was in reference to our drug court docket funding,” Sturgill stated. “We obtained [Addiction Treatment Program] funding. It had $3,000 in administrative funds to it. I used to be instructed they didn’t care how we spent that cash, and they didn’t need any type of something submitted again to them. I believe if something, all that reveals is for over a yr I’ve been making an attempt to extend the salaries of our employees and to point out appreciation for his or her onerous work.

“The concept of ‘non permanent’ was under no circumstances to place it underneath the radar of a bonus — under no circumstances in anyway — as a result of the concept is they’d be everlasting. If the grant funding is there, they’d 100-percent be everlasting. The concept of ‘non permanent’ was worst-case state of affairs, if we now have to make the lower, we may take these raises again.”

McKenna stated he had not heard the phrase “bonus” come up till Daniels talked about it. “I’m making an attempt to take a seat right here pondering when bonus turned a four-letter phrase,” McKenna stated. “I don’t know why we’ve gotten sidetracked. Whether or not the idea of a bonus or a increase or a bushel of peaches, name it no matter you need. Let the those that have earned a pat on the again have a pat on the again. It doesn’t have an effect on your finances.”

Each Daniels and Britton additionally steered that the additional cash must be paid again to the county.

“I believe that we, the commissioners — and Rocky, you bore this out once you made your presentation — I believe that we’ve been honest with a variety of the judicial packages,” Daniels stated. “I am going again and make reference to the truth that Sufferer Witness misplaced a $40,000 a yr grant this yr, and we had been very happy to produce further funds to function that program within the shortfall.

“It appears to me that if there are further grant monies, and if we’re serving to to assist these packages, I don’t assume it hurts us to have that cash repaid again to the county’s normal fund.”

Judkins praised the board of commissioners for his or her historical past of “good cooperation and wonderful assist of all of the county businesses, together with our court docket and justice system.”

“The query is whether or not we’re going to proceed with that clever cooperation,” he stated. “On this specific case, we now have cash that’s being accessible to this county, by way of the efforts of this division, of their acquiring their grant, with out affecting the finances in anyway.

“The truth is, this division exists underneath that premise. In the event that they don’t get their grants renewed, they don’t exist anymore, and we’re up a creek.”

Daniels disagreed that “the division wouldn’t exist” with out the $1.1 million in grant funding per biennium, once more referencing the cash the county allotted to Sufferer Witness. “We are going to step up when we have to,” Daniels stated.

Britton stated the county had “a variety of questions on why they’d more money and what they had been going to do with it … earlier than the grant cycle began” and proposed paying that cash again to the county.

“After we checked out it, we decided that we subsidize that division a lot cash yearly, and we simply felt like in the event that they did have more money that it ought to presumably come again to the final fund to assist pay that portion of it,” Britton stated.

Coss responded once more that the $70,000 is “loads of cash” to account for the one remaining officer place.

“I perceive that, however we nonetheless subsidize that individual,” Britton stated.

“You subsidize everyone, Terry,” Coss stated. “You present the court docket. You don’t cost me for offering the courthouse. You pay all of the retirement for my workers, similar to you do for the sheriff and everyone else. They really even pay their very own retirement, so that they’re really selecting that up for you.”

Sturgill defined to commissioners that the probation division “misplaced two long-term employees members final yr, and that left this cash on the desk that was in a position to be divided up between the remainder of the employees as a result of there was a spot between when the brand new workers had been employed, and the brand new workers had been employed at a decrease charge than those that left.”

“If a grant isn’t used, it goes again, right?” Britton requested.

“To the state,” Coss stated.

“If it comes into our normal fund, then we now have somewhat more money in there,” Britton stated.

“We are able to’t pay it again to the final fund,” Coss stated. “We have now to have it budgeted for particular functions. A type of functions isn’t stability to the final fund. It goes again to them. They should show all our expenditures and all of the issues we use the cash for. They don’t simply give us a checkbook and say ‘spend it.’”

Britton requested if the grant cash might be used to pay workers’ salaries. Coss stated that “some departments and grants could do this” however identified that the county is paying insurance coverage prices for different county departments out of the final fund already.

“These persons are solely not normal fund individuals due to the grants,” Coss stated. “Fairly actually, if we didn’t have the grants, we’d in all probability should have near the variety of those that we now have, which suggests as an alternative of $70,000 a yr plus insurance coverage, you’d be paying $550,000 a yr. Dave [Daniels], when you can step as much as the plate in a single yr on that, you then guys are wonderful, however I do know you’ll be able to’t.”

Judkins stated the county runs the danger of “killing the goose that’s laying the golden egg” when it comes to grant cash.

“If this cash goes again to the final fund as an alternative of being utilized within the probation division itself, you’re going to make it rather more tough for them to maintain up this grant program,” Judkins stated. “You’re going to make it very tough for them. You could be killing the goose that’s laying the golden egg, which is insane. It’s silly. It’s fiscally irresponsible to do this.”

Daniels reprimanded him, saying, “We’ve managed to maintain ‘silly’ and ‘irresponsible’ out of this dialog. Now come on.”

“I apologize, nevertheless it simply doesn’t make any sense,” Judkins stated.

“The pay scale that was developed occurred every week in the past to justify what we’re doing right here now,” Daniels stated. “We are able to make these arguments all day lengthy. I might argue that perhaps we must be speaking to the town of Hillsboro or the town of Greenfield to assist a few of these prices, however we’re not.”

One other objection by the commissioners was the timing of the request, as they took problem with the truth that raises are proposed in the midst of a finances cycle.

“Usually, raises within the probation division have come round in regards to the starting of July, when the brand new funding cycle comes out,” Daniels stated. “That has been type of the norm, so to see employees bonuses come out at this level type of raised some crimson flags.”

Daniels added that the state finances proposal signifies there could also be cuts within the subsequent biennial finances “as a result of excessive unemployment within the state.” He stated that on the whole, it’s “a nasty time” to make such a request.

“I take into consideration the variety of individuals on the market that aren’t getting raises, aren’t getting bonuses, aren’t getting every part else,” Daniels stated. “This simply is a nasty time to be doing it. In three months’ time or in 4 months’ time, we’re going to search out out what cash’s accessible for this division, and I don’t assume anyone’s going to endure if they’ve to attend for 3 or 4 months to see the type of cash that is available in.”

Coss stated that he has given raises in the midst of a finances cycle earlier than and that there’s “nothing suspicious” about this request. “There’s nothing that claims raises should be given January the primary after commissioners approve the annual finances,” he stated.

“I believe the scenario the place it got here up on the latter finish of the cycle versus ready till the grant cycle begins was the large query,” Britton stated. “That doesn’t appear regular to us.”

“It’s our intent to maintain them,” Coss stated. “If we get a 10-percent lower in our grant, we’ll have the ability to maintain this, I believe. If we get a 20- or 30-percent lower, then perhaps we received’t.”

Britton identified that the county had to take a look at issues from their finances perspective as effectively.

“My stand is that if we’re going to remain inside the finances, then I might agree with it,” Britton stated. “The one factor we had been simply is ensuring — we now have to remain inside our finances additionally. Something we will do to assist that scenario, and that’s type of the way in which we had been that is when you’ve acquired somewhat more money, perhaps we want the assistance on the medical health insurance or no matter. You’ve acquired to type of check out our facet. We’re our checkbook additionally.”

Judkins requested the commissioners to make use of the surplus funds to “reward and acknowledge” the probation division.

“You might want to pat these individuals on the again and acknowledge the nice job and encourage them,” Judkins stated. “Don’t simply let this waste and say ‘we’re going to take this windfall and put it again within the normal fund and ignore you and the nice work you’ve carried out and the actual fact you’ve even obtained these funds for the county.’ I do strongly consider they need to be rewarded and acknowledged for the sound work they’ve carried out.”

The problem of equity for different county workers was additionally mentioned, as Daniels additionally stated that he didn’t need to “set the probation division aside from another division within the county.”

“All of us do good work right here,” Daniels stated. “Each court docket does good work, each county worker, you hope, does good work. Do I worth the work [the probation officers] do and acknowledge they do it in a harmful surroundings? Completely.”

Coss argued that “not each worker is similar” and that commissioners ought to think about the quantity of coaching and schooling that probation officers have.

“For 44 years, I’ve at all times heard that commissioners have at all times taken the place ‘we’re going to deal with each worker the identical,’” Coss stated. “I agree each worker is efficacious, however not each worker is similar. We not solely have apples and oranges, we now have grapefruit and tangelos and grapes and every part else. They’re totally different. That’s why I really identified within the supplies, when you’d look, Dave: what number of of these [county] workers have faculty levels? In the event that they need to make $46,000, they will go to varsity to do this.

“You may have only a few workers on this county which are required to have faculty levels, and but they do extraordinarily competent and succesful work. I’m not undervaluing them, however I’m simply saying we now have to acknowledge what it takes to have the ability to get these positions.”

Coss stated that 11 of the 13 probation division positions require a school diploma. To his information, he stated, solely authorized positions; deputy coroners; deputy engineers; the well being commissioner and well being division nurses; Job and Household Providers supervisors and caseworkers are the one county workers required to have a level.

“If you wish to look across the county and examine and be honest, Dave, then examine faculty diploma positions to varsity diploma positions,” Coss stated. “While you do this, you can not argue that you’re being unfair to the probation division. You pay case staff out at JFS $17 and $19 an hour beginning. You’re paying corrections officers, which I believe could be $18, $16.83 to $17.53 an hour.

“If you wish to say you’re going to be honest, let’s examine apples to apples, not apples to grapefruit or oranges or tangelos.”

After addressing these considerations, all three judges urged commissioners to authorize the request, given their historical past of “being on the identical crew.” It was additionally argued that each one three judges and the probation division have saved the county a big amount of cash over time, in comparison with the already budgeted, approximate $7,500 request.

As talked about, Coss had instructed commissioners that no matter what they stated, the choice had been made. In the course of the course of their dialogue, Daniels himself acknowledged, “ superb and effectively you’ll be able to order this carried out, and we’ve acquired no recourse in anyway.”

“I don’t need to do this, as a result of I’ve by no means needed to do it, and I don’t need you to drive me to do it, as a result of there’s actually no good motive so that you can do this,” Coss stated. “You’ve made an argument out of nothing. We’re inside our finances. If one of many different departments determined to offer a increase to any individual for this yr’s finances, there’s not a factor you are able to do about it.”

“It’s a bonus,” Daniels replied.

“It’s not a bonus, Dave, and once more, even when it had been, it was primarily based upon the truth that this county and this commissioners workplace has licensed bonuses for county workers prior to now and even paid them,” Coss stated. “Fairly actually, the phrase ‘bonus’ didn’t even come up once I mentioned this with Tonya. After we talked about bonuses final yr, I had stated ‘we have to work on getting these salaries elevated.’”

Daniels stated he was “going to name it a employees bonus, whether or not individuals prefer it or not.”

“I might wager you nearly each taxpayer in Highland County want to have a bonus this time of yr, however they don’t,” Daniels stated. “Perhaps I must say that that is solely $70,000 a yr, or $100,000, and perhaps I simply shouldn’t care about it,” Daniels stated.

“It’s about $10,000, Dave,” Coss stated. “Truly, even much less, since they put the opposite one over [to grants] — perhaps $5,000.”

McKenna summed up the request, saying that the judiciary and county are “all on the identical crew,” and traditionally there’s “been a way of cooperation between the judiciary and the commissioners and the opposite features of presidency.”

“We don’t must go to the place we’re not cooperating with one another,” he stated. “You’ve seen the unified place of the judiciary. We’re asking you to associate with this, no matter you need to name it — bonus, lottery winnings. It solely is being introduced to you on the finish of the cycle as a result of it’s acquired cash on the finish of the cycle. In the event that they’d identified they’d had cash at first of the cycle, then they may have.

“Proper now, we have the funds for to offer these individuals somewhat more money for his or her households, and positive, each household within the county would really like more money. I’d like more money, too. However we’re not speaking about everyone else, we’re speaking in regards to the individuals affected by this increase, which actually is just one individual.”

Britton stated the commissioners “work along with all of the departments” however “simply questioned the selections being made. “We’re on the identical crew for each division,” he stated.

“I agree, Terry, and I hope that, however that’s not the sensation that I’m getting right here at this time,” McKenna stated.

As McKenna identified, Breeden stated that the probation division had “no clue” prematurely that the 2 workers in query had been leaving, so they may not have ready for the additional funds. Sturgill famous that “the advice of one of many workers in his exit interview was the division ought to actually have a pay scale, and we began wanting and stated ‘you’re proper, we don’t have one.’ We began engaged on one.”

“I believe a part of that is communication,” Coss stated. “I assumed I used to be being extra open and clear by establishing the division the way in which I did the place you guys are rather more conscious of it since you’re dealing with it, moderately than me dealing with it or taking accountability.

“When it got here to the day-to-day stuff and issues like this, I type of left it as much as you guys and them, as a result of every part goes easily.”

Coss added that “if we’re going to take care of an excellent working relationship and depart it the way in which it’s, I’ll pledge to you that I’ll attempt to get [information] out to you as quickly as we begin occupied with issues, so that you’re conscious of it, in order that when it does come about it’s not a shock.”

“We are able to proceed to do this, if that’s what you need to do,” Coss stated. “Or, if you need me to, as a part of the court docket order I can take over the division, take away it from you and I’ll administer it.”

The approximate 77-minute argument Wednesday over $5,000 plus advantages for one county worker is “a lesson in enterprise in addition to a lesson in politics,” Coss instructed commissioners. He added that some judges and commissioners “have spent lots of of 1000’s of {dollars} combating every in different in court docket, however the good half for the judges is the commissioners pay for each attorneys.”

“When it comes right down to it, all you guys are businessmen,” Coss stated. “It’s a must to determine how a lot it’s value to struggle over what’s in query. We’re speaking about $5,000 plus fringes — about $7,500. Is it value all of this unpleasantness that we’ve simply gone by way of? Is it value what’s going to occur sooner or later, the prices?

“Let’s discuss this from a enterprise standpoint. It’s a lesson in enterprise in addition to a lesson in politics. Decide your fights. Is that this the struggle we have to choose? Is that this the hill you need to die on?”

“I don’t assume we’re selecting a struggle,” Britton stated.

“While you stated you weren’t going to simply accept my resolution — that, to me, you picked a struggle,” Coss stated. “You simply stated ‘keep inside the finances and we’re all proper.’ For God’s sake, we’re inside the finances.”

Britton then stated the commissioners workplace had a difficulty “with communication” on the proposal, as Coss indicated. “The way in which we heard about it was by way of a request for a pay enhance,” he stated.

“Like Dave [McKenna] stated, we’ve at all times been collectively on this,” Coss stated. “Once more, if for nothing else than gratitude of the lots of of 1000’s of {dollars} all three of us have saved you over time, I might assume you wouldn’t need to argue this amount of cash. I assume, as my dad used to say, ‘you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.’

“So anyway, I simply must know. Do I must placed on a court docket order, or will you approve that pay within the regular course of occasions like we did? We despatched it over and also you despatched it again, as I perceive it.”

“I believe they had been paid on the speed they had been despatched over,” Daniels stated.

“No, sir,” Sturgill stated.

“Not the county worker, you’re proper,” Daniels stated. “Everybody else acquired their bonus.”

“Not ‘bonus,’ Dave,” Coss stated. “It’s a increase.”

“Mr. Chairman, I transfer that we talk about this afterward within the assembly,” Daniels stated. “We’ll inform you of our resolution.”

After the judges and probation administrators left, commissioners then proceeded to undergo their regular agenda, which lasted roughly seven minutes. They took a short recess at Daniels’ request. After the recess, Daniels then moved to enter govt session, which commissioners entered at roughly 10:31 a.m.

In line with Remsing, at 10:39 a.m., commissioners exited govt session.

“A movement was made by Commissioner Britton and seconded by Commissioner Duncan to approve the request from the Probation Division for the rise in wage for the county worker that the county funds,” Remsing stated. “The vote resulted as follows:  Mr. Duncan, yea; Mr. Britton, yea; and Mr. Daniels, nay.”

Other than a few of the county committee’s CARES Act funding requests, the final identified 2-1 vote at a county fee assembly was Dec. 10, 2014, when then-commissioner Jeremy Shaffer voted in opposition to a decision continuing with building to a county sewer district.

 

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