Source: The Corydon Democrat

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Private vs. Public sector debate heats up meeting

by Ross Schulz

June 10, 2014

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.