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Council narrowly OKs raises for foremen

The Harrison County Council Monday evening approved a raise for the three Harrison County Highway Dept. foremen by a narrow vote of 4-3, and it took two votes, as well as persuading from Commissioner Kenny Saulman, to get it passed.
After realizing the department was over-spending at a pace it would not be able to sustain for much longer, the commissioners and highway department officials came up with a plan to save money and become financially stable.
Part of that plan was reducing the number of foremen from seven to three. The four foremen who were not chosen for a promotion were moved to large equipment operators, which came with a pay cut from $16.36 an hour to $15.74. The reduction in salary was approved with a 5-2 vote (Councilmen Ralph Sherman and Gordon Pendleton were against).
The department requested an increase to $17 an hour for the three promoted foreman, from $16.36.
‘I think it’s a good investment; we’re asking more of those guys,’ Harrison County Engineer Kevin Russel said.
He said the foremen are crucial in the implementation of the new cost-saving plan for the department, which also includes attrition by not replacing a couple of retired workers.
‘They’ll have to supervise six to 11 people at times,’ Russel said.
All drivers and operators are now under one foreman per commissioner district.
The foremen are Richard Sloan, District 1; Allen Hitner, District 2; and Steve Miller, District 3.
Councilman Jim Heitkemper made the motion to approve the raise, retroactively to July 14 when the foremen were hired, but it died for lack of a second. He then tried another motion to begin the raise as of Sept. 8, but it also failed without a second.
Saulman then took to the podium and said the commissioners are trying to help the over-spending problem with the department and this is part of that plan.
‘It’s kind of discouraging not to get that done,’ he said. ‘There’s no incentive to save money throughout the year if you all won’t do anything. Next year, we won’t make any changes until Jan. 1.’
Councilman Richard Gerdon asked Saulman if he recommended giving the foremen raises before they completed their probationary period of six months.
‘They’re going to work,’ Saulman said, so the raise is warranted.
Russel said in no way has the plan been a pleasant or easy process.
Gerdon then made another motion to approve the raises retroactively to July 14 and Heitkemper seconded. Gerdon said he wanted the commissioners to know they had the council’s support when it comes to cost-saving issues. It was approved with Councilwoman Sherry Brown and Gary Davis also voting in favor.
Pendleton said there’s so many cost variables, including insurance, between now and the first of the year that he couldn’t approve it.
Davis said the council has spent about $24,000 on job descriptions and employee handbook issues and hopes to have the process completed soon to be able to make documented cases for raises or reduction for all county employees.
‘What we do tonight is not guaranteed through the job description process,’ Davis said.
In May, highway superintendent Glen Bube and Russel detailed the funding issues to the commissioners and council.
First and foremost, the department’s motor-vehicle highway fund spending, approved yearly by the county council, has exceeded its revenue for many years and would likely drain all of its savings by next year or 2015 if it continued on the same path.
‘There’s not a singular issue that has caused it; it’s more of an operating issue,’ Russel said in May. ‘There’s no way to address it without getting into personnel, salaries, health insurance.’
The plan also includes rejuvenating county roads as well as chip and seal (instead of repaving the worst county roads every year).