Posted on

Health officer makes case for ‘underpaid, overworked’ staff

Council changes funding amount for sheriff’s chief
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The Harrison County Health Dept. is understaffed, underpaid and overworked, according to a letter written to the county governing bodies signed by Dr. Andrew Morton, the department’s health officer.

“We cannot continue to do this without adequate support in terms of staff and compensation,” the letter, read by Councilman Kyle Nix, said. “The health department will have no choice but to make hard decisions as to the level and quality of services it will be able to provide.”

The letter was read at the Aug. 31 budget session of the county council.

Nix said he didn’t disagree with Morton’s statement but wished a representative from the health department was there in person to discuss the issues it was facing.

The health department also requested funding for another employed position on its staff, but the council was reluctant to add an employee as it was fearful the need was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, that once things calmed down from that, the need would no longer be there.

Ultimately, the request for a new employee was denied, but council members noted they would be more open to a contractual position.

“If this tsunami of their time is being taken up because of the pandemic, I would like to see us explore contractual work and take that job away from them instead of creating jobs for the county that we would be stuck with,” Council chair Donnie Hussung said. “If we are funding them for a temporary reason, they are going to be a long-term commitment.”

The council intends to reach out to Carrie Herthel, the department’s administrator, to find a time she can meet with the council in hopes to better explain some of the issues the health department is facing.

Also at the meeting, the council voted unanimously to change the vacant Harrison County police chief position’s salary to $84,016. This came after a motion was made at the previous budget session to set the salary at $72,000.

Also at the budget session last Tuesday night, Sheriff Nick Smith approached the council to explain the position further, as Nix had said the pair had a separate conversation after the last meeting, on Aug. 24, where Nix had not fully understood the position and its changes at the previous meeting.

Smith explained he was fearful people would interpret the change as the department adding a position, when they were really making internal changes to shift positions in order to incorporate a chief into staffing.

Smith said he requested the particular salary request of $84,016 as it was 75% of the sheriff’s salary. He also noted that all other elected positions in the county have a chief deputy position that is funded at 85% of the elected official’s salary.

“We are removing a road officer from the pay scale, but that chief will have all those duties of a road officer, so we aren’t eliminating a road officer, we are just expanding the position,” Smith said.

The position, after being fully funded at the sheriff’s request of $84,016, will net a $27,000 additional expense to the county’s budget.

Two administrator positions at the sheriff’s department will also receive a raise in the coming year as the council unanimously agreed to put both positions up to the recommendation of the sheriff.

The two positions, a jail record administrator and jail accounts administrator, will receive $19 an hour based on additional responsibilities taken on by recent mandates made. This adds about $2,900 per position annually.

Hussung also noted that both he and Nix had recently met with the heads of each fire department in the county to make them aware that the ongoing gentleman’s agreement between the departments and the county should continue but at possibly a lower rate.

Ultimately, the council approved unanimously a motion by Councilwoman Holli Castetter that the gentleman’s agreement would give $300,000 a year for a three-year period in total to the departments, not to exceed any $600,000 request in a two-year period.

In order to participate, each fire department will need to keep the cumulative rate at a minimum of 3%.

The council will continue budget meetings in the coming weeks.