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12/07/2019

Board Approves Bonuses; Mulls Cutting County Slots

 

The Mississippi County Quorum Court Finance Committee approved an end-of-the-year bonus for employees, pondered streamlining positions and discussed proposals for the 2020 budget during Thursday's board meeting.

Justice Neil Burge suggested offering full-time employees a $600 bonus and part-time employees a $300 bonus, which is expected to cost about $110,000 and come out of the 2019 budget.

After discussion, the proposal was unanimously sent to the quorum court for consideration at the Dec. 17 meeting. Justices wanted to give the bonus before Christmas, but because the county's next payday is the same day as the quorum court meeting, it would not be approved in time. If the bonus is approved, it would be on the Dec. 31 check.

Typically, the county has given bonuses of $1,200 for full-time employees and $600 for part-time, but because of uncertainties with a health insurance rate hike, Burge suggested providing half that amount.

"We've given good raises this year," said Justice Michael White, who chairs the Finance Committee. "In the last two years, we've given excellent raises to our employees. We haven't forgotten them, and we're talking about picking up the additional costs in healthcare. I totally agree with Justice Burge in letting our employees know that we do still appreciate them."

Meanwhile, Justice Molly Houseworth Jackson initiated a discussion on streamlining positions - defunding and eliminating those that aren't deemed necessary.

"I understand that this is a tough conversation to have because, of course, we're talking about people," Jackson said. "But I think it's a conversation that we owe the citizens and the other employees of the county."

Jackson said studying the payroll budget, she looked for duplicates or "jobs that were not necessarily going to affect the services to the citizens of Mississippi County."

"I don't want to do anything that is going to increase the workload on anyone, but I certainly think that we need to look at the needs of our county now versus maybe last year," Jackson said. "I think we need to look at the slots that we have added and to see if there are any slots that we can potentially get rid of. I know there are one or two slots that have funding that there has not been anyone in over 18 months. I think that we can potentially look at defunding that spot."

Jackson mentioned several positions that add up to more than $200,000 in payroll.

She pointed out the county went from having two janitor slots to four.

"I would like for our courthouses to be clean; I just don't know that it's going to take double the spots," Jackson said.

She also pointed out a Mississippi County Sheriff's Department major retired and that spot was filled by another officer.

"Our jail is seeing fewer prisoners; we are seeing less population," Jackson said. "I don't know that Mississippi County needs two majors anymore."

She also mentioned that a couple of years ago, the county split 911 and emergency services. At the time, according to White, the county had to assign new 911 road numbers that created a heavy workload in the office.

Jackson noted there doesn't seem to be that workload any longer.

She added at the beginning of the year, the county eliminated a bookkeeper slot to create a public relations position, but then added a bookkeeper to the landfill and part-time employee to the finance department.

"Streamlining our payroll would give us the ability to potentially give raises," Jackson said. "It would also give us the potential to meet the needs of our county."

She said once the court determines which positions are unnecessary, the slots should be not only unfunded but deleted.

"I agree that we need to take a hard look at some positions, and I think that we're going to find that there are some positions that probably can't be justified," Burge said. "However, I would like to say - and I'm laying the cards on the table - due to the current status, what's going on in the county, I don't want anything to be perceived that the quorum court is taking some kind of action in retribution or anything like that. I agree with you 100 percent. I think it needs to be delayed somewhat until our current situation clears up and then sit down and as (Justice) Bill (Nelson) said to have a meeting and look rather than make some quick, rash decisions and leave the perception that the court might be trying to retaliate or something like that. I don't think that's in the best interest of the county. I agree with you and I agree probably with most of the things that you talked about, but I think the timing is wrong."

Jackson agreed, as did other justices, to delay the discussion until after the first of the year.

Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson recently vetoed the quorum court's amendment to an ordinance that moved the finance department from under the county judge to under the treasurer.

White and Justice Bubba Norvall have claimed that Judge Nelson had threatened to fire finance director Kelli Jones if White did not help his son, John David Nelson, get put on the county payroll. Judge Nelson has denied the allegation.

Meanwhile, justices received some good news prior to the Finance Committee meeting when learning at the Insurance Committee meeting that the health insurance hike might not be a high as feared.

The previous best proposal from iOne Benefits Group was a 22 percent increase because claims skyrocketed to $2.1 million this year. However, QualChoice offered a 5.7 percent increase for insurance for the nearly 200 county employees during Thursday's Insurance Committee meeting.

A 22 percent increase equates to about a $400,000 hike in insurance costs, while a 5.7 percent bump would cost the county an additional $110,000 - a difference of nearly $300,000. If the county chooses the QualChoice option, the deductible would go from the current $2,500 to $4,500.

Justices had been waiting for the insurance numbers before deciding whether to consider raises or bonuses for employees in 2020.

"When we were building this budget through this process, insurance has been the big white elephant in the room the whole time," White said. "We knew that we had some catastrophic losses this year in 2019."

Justice Nelson pitched checking into the legalities of the county paying the deductible for the employees.

"The surplus that we are going to have out of insurance compared to what we thought we were going to pay is going to be somewhere around $300,000 that we are going to save," Nelson pointed out.

Burge said to do that, he believes the county would have to do a health savings plan.

Justice Rick Ash noted the employees actually pay into the health savings plan. While the county funds it upfront, employees pay the money back.

The board asked Jones to get quotes from QualChoice on $500 and $1,000 deductibles.

Meanwhile, the board looked at the proposed 2020 budget, though it still included the 22 percent insurance increase figures.

With that increase, the general fund showed projected revenues of $8,544,420.90 versus expenditures of 9,572,432.00.

The county does have a $3.3 million CD as reserves to cover any shortfall.

"This is why it is so important to build and maintain county reserves," White said.

The Finance Committee will meet at 1:30 p.m., Monday, in the Annex Building, with hopes of sending the budget to the full court for its December meeting.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Personnel Committee approved moving a deputy assessor/deputy collector to a full-time chief deputy collector for Manila/Leachville, with the collector and assessor splitting her salary. The board also approved a full-time administrative secretary for the juvenile office to replace a part-time position.

The committee also tabled reviewing job descriptions for the finance department until after the Dec. 17 quorum court meeting.