Archive for Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BOCC could change benefits in ’10

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

February 25, 2009

Employee benefits packages will remain the same for 2009, but could change in 2010.

That is something the Board of County Commissioners wanted to make clear Thursday as it addressed county department heads. During the meeting, commission chair John Flower gave a state of the county address, just two weeks after the board invited department heads to discuss future salary benefits cuts.

“I want to report that the state of the affairs in the county are in fine shape,” Flower said.

“I want people to understand that the exercise I wanted to do had nothing to do with the current state of the finances of the county.”

The commissioners discussed employees’ salaries and benefits with county department heads after the department heads raised some concerns about the commissions plans to possibly cut benefits this year.

During the meeting the commissioners said while the benefits would remain the same in 2009, anything would be on the table in 2010, especially if the state and county revenues fall far short of their budgets.

Flower said he wanted to have a series of plans for what-if scenarios so the county would be prepared if it needed to make large cuts in the budget.

“If at some point in time we started to see revenue shortfalls, then we would at least have some idea, in a less than chaotic way, what we would do.”

Commissioner J.C. Tellefson agreed. To keep his thoughts short and organized, Tellefson wrote a letter on the state of the county’s economy and read the letter out loud during the meeting.

In the letter, he echoed Flower’s comments on the county’s state of the economy, but said tough times in the future could mean less money for the county, which could result in the loss of services to the residents and the reduction of employee benefits, both of which he wants to avoid.

“What I don’t support is continuing to act out of fear, or withholding promised benefits to our employees,” Tellefson wrote. “We promised them when we hired them, and when we passed the budget in August of last year. I keep my promises.”

To keep his promises, Tellefson suggested even having a small mill levy increase to make up for some of the shortfall in revenue the county might receive from the state, but said they should be mindful of those in the county living on fixed incomes.

Commissioner Clyde Graeber reminded Tellefson that some county residents would already face a large mill increase because of a special bond issue in the Leavenworth School District that passed in November. Tellefson agreed that the bond issue should be kept in mind, but it shouldn’t affect the county’s business.

“I will not support putting on the employees not being able to raise the mill up to 4 mill because the people of Leavenworth city finally decided they needed $59 million worth of schools,” Tellefson said.

To end his letter, Tellefson also made several motions based off of the suggestions made from county employees.

He motioned that the commission approve the 3 percent pay increase already budgeted for 2009 for all county employees and elected officials, except the board.

After discussion, the board amended the motion and unanimously approved a 1.5 percent pay increase effective March 18, with the board revisiting the other half of the pay increase once it got a handle on what the state’s budget would look like in 2010.

The board also approved that the thermostats in county office buildings should remain no higher than 68 degrees in the winter and no lower than 78 degrees in the summer, with the exception of the Leavenworth County Health Department, which can set their thermostat to a temperature it “deems healthy not comfortable,” Tellefson said.

For the time being, the commission did put a ban on space heaters and said the public works department would continue looking into the heating and cooling issue as well.

Heather Morgan, county administrator, said the topic of other ways to save money, including organizing the way the county shreds paper, will be talked about at the next department head meeting.

For more information on the county, visit www.tonganoxiemirror.com.

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