Commissioners take look at employee overtime issues at November monthly meeting

Employee overtime was just one of several issues that came to the forefront in the past few months as the Haakon County Board of Commissioners had to take a hard look at budget constraints when formalizing the 2009 budget.

During their November 4 meeting at the Haakon County Courthouse the board looked at the overtime issues. It has been the board's directive for a long time that the courthouse employees not accrue overtime. This has been a hard issue for the departments to juggle as more state regulations and new programs have been required of the offices. Some offices have also had employees or hours dropped for deputies.

The commissioners turned their eyes to the county highway department's large overtime accrual. Currently highway department employees are working four days per week, with each day being 11 hours. That makes for four hours of overtime each week, which is paid at time and a half.

Neal Brunskill, board chairman, brought the issue to the table, "I don't think we should be going year round with paying overtime. I think it is wrong, and I'm not too sure [about] the four day a week thing." He went on that he could see the reasoning for using it during the summer months but not the winter months. Commissioenr Don Eymer said he agreed with the four day, 10 hour work week, as it allowed the employees to reach the farthest areas of the county and still do a day's work. "What I'm saying is that they get more work done working four 20 hour days, than five eight hour days," he said. But, he added, he didn't think the employees needed all the overtime hours they were getting.

Haakon County Highway Department Superintendent Kenny Neville stated his concern that the employees wages would be cut and he couldn't agree with that plan. "That wasn't their wages to start with," said Brunskill. "That's been a gift." Commissioner Rita O'Connell noted that the original set up was that the highway department went to four, 10 hour days during the summer months, with whatever overtime was necessary. Then it reverted back to 40 hours per week during the winter months.

Brunskill stated, "The overtime was never meant to be a raise, the overtime was meant to accomplish your jobs in the summer months." Neville said, "Let me be clear. What you're trying to do is take all their overtime away." Brunksill clarified, "No. Six months of the year would be four, 11s and the other six they wouldn't have that." Eymer added, "The overtime got away from what we started. Overtime is getting paid pretty good money." Neville replied, "They deserve pretty good money." Brunskill noted that their current wage, plus benefits is good money compared to other jobs in Haakon County. Neville was concerned that he would lose employees and would have a hard time hiring replacements.

The board felt comfortable with the six months of four days per week with 11 hours per day for the summer and the six winter months would drop to 10 hours per day. Additional overtime for grading after a rain or emergency situations would be up to Neville's discretion.

O'Connell noted that businesses have to cut back when the finances are tough and the county is no different. She noted Neville was watching out for the employees in his department and commended him for that. Eymer said, "You have to make the budget work. You have to stay within those bounds."

The board noted they did not want Neville to take the brunt of his employees thoughts regarding this proposal. They told him to let the department's employees know that they can talk to the board. The board agreed they would not make a decision on the matter until speaking with the employees at the next meeting on December 2, 2008.

The board approved to pay E.F. Johnson for two radios in the amount of $4,176.90. No documentation has ever been found that the radios had been paid for, but it appeared that they had been received. The board did not approve payment of interest on that amount, reverting back to 2005. The bill was resubmitted earlier this year, by the radio company. The county had not been contacted for nearly three years, and they thus felt they did not owe the interest.

The board approved the meeting minutes from October 7, 2008, and the past months bills.

Quarterly reports were given by Adele Harty and Jessica Eikmeier from the Extension office, Rita Merrill, director of equalization; Terry Deuter, veterans' service officer; Heidi Burns, county health nurse; Karyl Sandal, register of deeds, Annie Brunskill, librarian; and Sheriff Larry Hanes.

Neville noted that the county highway department employees will now be required by law to wear green clothing to alert themselves to traffic. He suggested the county purchase green vests. He will look into prices. The board surplused four old mowers and various pieces of scrap metal.

Neville updated the board on an upcoming bridge project near the Larry Smith land. The project is to be let by the state in December 2008. The estimated cost is $299,000, 20 percent of which will be paid by the county.

The surplused heating units were sold to high bidder, Keith Harry. The board approved a Relay for Life fundraiser for an individual group, and approved for the county offices to be closed, Friday, November 28, the day after Thanksgiving.