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Tue, Oct 21, 2014 04:47 AM
Issue of October 15, 2014
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Private vs. Public sector debate heats up meeting

June 11, 2014 | 07:38 AM

The Harrison County Board of Commissioners and county council had a joint meeting Thursday morning with all county department heads and elected officials to discuss changes to the personnel policy, which the commissioners plan to approve at their regular meeting Monday night.

One of the changes that caused angst from those in attendance was the cut in personal days from four to two per year, beginning Jan. 1.

An audience member asked if there was any gain for the county for making the change.

"Why would you ask the taxpayer to pay for four days?" Commissioner George Ethridge asked in response.

The employee said the "good benefits" are the main reasons people take county government jobs because they could make more money in the private sector.

"I've heard that ever since I've been here," Ethridge said. "That doesn't fly anymore. The council has done a lot of work to balance pay. If you think you can make more money in the private sector, go for it. The benefits we have here far exceed those in the private sector."

Commissioner Kenny Saulman said full-time county workers already receive 18 paid holidays throughout the year (not counting personal and sick days).

"In the private sector, you're lucky if you get six," he said.

The council and commissioners spent about $50,000 to have a job description and compensation plan conducted by an outside firm — Waggoner Irwin & Scheele, based in Indianapolis — to find out whether employees were under or over paid.

"It's not just out of the blue," Councilman Gordon Pendleton said of the wage changes put in place this year.

Department heads were involved in the job description process so any error in the descriptions should be attributed to them, Council Chair Gary Davis said. And if there is an error or omission, there's a process for getting the description changed.

The board also made a change to emergency closings, most likely for winter weather, that states, when county offices are closed before the work day begins, employees will not be paid for that day unless they use one of their already built-up days. The exception is emergency personnel, who are expected to work and will be paid as usual.

"Just don't come in," Ethridge said about all other employees. "The reason we changed it is it is unfair to the taxpayer to pay for government to be open when it isn't."

For example, some employees came in to work last year despite county offices being closed and expected to be paid.

"It's just not right," Ethridge said.

Other changes included cutting the introductory period for new employees from six months to 90 days.

"If you don't know (whether they'll work out or not) by then, you're just not paying attention," Ethridge said.

Employees in the introductory stage receive a lower pay rate.

Karen Engleman, the county auditor, reiterated that compensation time should not be given unless approved by the department heads.

"But you better have the budget to back it up," she said.

Engleman said the county is forced to pay comp time if it's given, and there's a lot of it out there.

"It's an unfunded mandate," Engleman said.

She also reminded those in attendance that only the commissioners are supposed to sign contracts for work out of the county's scope; and for those employees with county vehicles, they should not be used for personal use.

The board said they'd consider adding in-laws to the bereavement day list, joining parents, children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren. A bereavement day is a paid day of work in absence following the death of a loved one. For any other death, such as an uncle, the employees can take a vacation day to miss work and still receive pay.

Before the meeting ended, Ethridge thanked the officeholders and department heads for making strides with cutting down non-work-related Internet usage.

"Last year, we had a real problem with Internet use, or should I say abuse," he said. "It's a lot better this year, and I thank you."

He said Facebook, videos, online radio and other sites/activities are bandwidth hogs that choke down access for business use.

He also thanked those in attendance for being there and for their input.

"We're all here working together," he said. "Let's try to communicate together."

Saulman added that just because the personnel policy is approved (if it is approved Monday) doesn't mean it can't be changed if something isn't working.

Engleman thanked the commissioners and council for their work on the plan.

"They've worked hard on this," she said. "The taxpayers talk (to the commissioners/councilmembers), and they don't talk the same way to you all."

Finally, the board encouraged department heads to have their employees sign up for the wellness plan through their insurance carrier, Humana.

"Participation will help keep costs down so we can continue to supply you with what I call a fantastic health plan," Ethridge said.

Twitter: @rossschulz

  1. print email
    Wake up time.
    June 12, 2014 | 08:54 AM

    Wake up county employees. You are working in the best facilities in the county..The courthouse, the old hospital, the justice center, the libraries, should I go on?
    You have a GUARANTEED/DEFINED BENEFIT retirement plan, which is now almost unheard of in the private industry now. "Cadillac" plan health insurance and according to Mr Saulman 3 1/2 weeks(18 days) paid time off PLUS personal, sick, and vacation days.
    You had almost NO layoffs, job loss, or reduction of hours during this last "great recession."
    You are complaining? Really? Really? Mr. Ethridge is correct, If you think the private sector is better, come join us, we are here and waiting for your talents. I am looking to fill a $11/hr position now, any takers?

    Don Smith
  2. print email
    June 12, 2014 | 11:37 PM

    This is absolutely hysterical. I've worked in the private sector for many years. I have eight years of service with my current company and two degrees. I get paid 6 holidays and 10 vacation days, no personal or sick days, and I pay nearly $1000/month for subpar insurance to cover my family, and my retirement is a 401k plan that is largely funded by me. I worked my way up into a good management position, and I still make less than many county employees. Oh, and I also shell out for my own car and gasoline every month. Foreign concept for many of you, I'm sure.

    Meanwhile, I pay a load of taxes ...

    If the private sector is so much better, where's the stampede of county employees beating down private businesses to get a piece of the pie? Oh, wait, there are none. Let's be honest, jobs in this county are often based on WHO you know, and not what you know, and most of you are lucky that you know someone.

    Many of the employees in this county should count their lucky stars that they work a job close to their home, where their transportation costs are low or even covered by a county vehicle, they have excellent insurance, generous retirement plans, and plenty of time off with their family.

    And I'm thankful our commissioners realize how ridiculously good county employees have it.

  3. print email
    June 13, 2014 | 04:48 AM

    George Etheridge's wife works for the Post Office. A ... person living drawing federal benefits, but wants to cut other people's.

    If those problems with playing on the internet are a problem, post each employee's abuse and time abusing it. How about a public records request for those records of internet abuse or post it on the county website? Why not a list of all what he calls internet abuse by employee on the county website? I don't expect it a bit. After all, since Davis and Smith took the Council, there is no county website display of the budget or salaries. ... The budget is out of control and they have granted salary increases out of line to their buddies.

    ... With all the money we pay in county taxes, every document regarding county finances should be online for every taxpayer to see ...

    Why doesn't Etheridge voluntarily divest himself of his wife's post office benefits first? Were any South Harrison School Board funds given to Etheridge for after-prom activities? Has he threatened any county highway workers for offenses they did not commit?

  4. print email
    June 13, 2014 | 08:58 AM

    and about those trucks you take home has anyone checked to see how much does that cost the taxpayer each year. ...

  5. print email
    June 13, 2014 | 02:17 PM

    I have talked to Chairman of this board and the Chairman of the previous board that runs the county and they will not do anything about those County trucks being driven home. If they had to pay for the upkeep they would stay at the garage every night!!!!!!!!!

  6. print email
    June 13, 2014 | 04:43 PM

    I don't see George Ethridge arguing that his wife--who delivers mail on a postal route, rain or shine, and has for many, many years before her husband ever took office--should get expanded benefits. In many cases county employee benefits are even more generous than the benefits being given to federal employees, and that's saying something.

    And while you're busy taking your despicable partisan attacks to the spouses of elected officials, you might consider that Ethridge's wife was in a serious car wreck earlier this year where someone hit her while she was delivering the mail.

  7. print email
    June 13, 2014 | 08:23 PM

    Leave Mrs. Ethridge out of this picture as this article has nothing to do with her or her job.
    Mr. Ethridge thank you for taking care of this county and asking questions when needed. Thanks also for checking to make sure these county employees are doing there job.

  8. print email
    Oh My Goodness
    June 17, 2014 | 07:41 PM

    Obviously the person complaining about there being no website to get the county budget or information. This person must not spend much time on the internet other then to politic on here.

    The county budget is available in full on-line and has been for quite some time. The meetings of both the commissioners and council are broadcast live and available to review after for the public to see. The same was available before Phil Smith was on the council. You know why it was available, because Phil Smith did it all on his own. He paid for it, he attended all of the meetings and taped them and then paid to have the website built to put them up on. So whoever made that comment, quit trying to play politics and get your facts straight. It might help your creditability.

  9. print email
    Dear Wake Up Time!
    June 17, 2014 | 11:32 PM

    I'm glad you know so much about "No Job Loss". Maybe you should WAKE UP and do your homework 1st before you act like you know everything! There were 3 part time Animal Control Officers and now there are 2 so what would you call that if there were No job losses?? I know the one who is not anymore and know why and so does 2 of the Commissione's but they only tell the public what they want you to know !

    Fed Up Tax payer
  10. print email
    June 18, 2014 | 11:39 AM

    To the person who said the budget is online, would you mind providing the link to that site, as I also have been unable to find it.
    To the person who said there was a part-time position lost at animal control, the previous poster said "almost", not that there weren't any.

  11. print email
    County Trucks
    June 18, 2014 | 01:47 PM

    Speaking of wasting Tax Payers money! County Trucks being taken Home. So why is this waste of our tax money spent for their convenience? I have seen a County Animal Control Truck being used for Personal use while on duty with a small child in a carseat riding in the Truck. Why is this allowed? And as far as taking these Trucks home, Why? ... So Mr. Ethridge why do you think tax payers want to pay for this?

  12. print email
    June 18, 2014 | 03:59 PM

    There are fewer highway department positions now than there were in 2012, too. There were still no lay offs.

    When people quit or retired, they simply did not fill the open positions. The reductions were accomplished through attrition rather than through lay offs.

  13. print email
    Usual Chest Pounding
    June 18, 2014 | 06:37 PM

    It's that time of year where government officials say look how much money we are saving by daring county employees to quit if they don't like the new changes.
    It's true. some changes need to happen but can we do without the usual rhetoric. Rhoada Rhoads dared the officers to leave a few years ago if they didn't like their compensation and they (did) then taxpayers had to pay to retrain the new ones. Mr. Estridge is well aware of the benefits he and his wife receive through her federal employment ... County deductibles have gone up. starting in October county PERF retirement is going to go down drastically and it's true that losing a few personal days may not make some people look for other jobs. However, lets try and treat county employees with respect and just answer their questions without asking one back or using them as an example to 'pound your chest' that your a cost saver. Honestly I doubt you can prove it will save much at all which is the real answer to their question.

    Seeing Is Believing
  14. print email
    Fed Up Tax Payer
    June 23, 2014 | 04:05 PM

    No, I don't know everything, HOWEVER, I do know that the extra part time animal clinic folks were employed as a result of "Operation Dog Gone.' This program was approved (barely) for only a certain length of time and only if it worked.
    So anyone hired under that program should have known that it MAY NOT be a permanent position. Understand?

    Don Smith
Debby Broughton
Best Built
Alberto's Italian Restaurant
Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer Real Estate
Riggs Towing
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