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Process Forces County Workers to Log Time Before They Work


During Monday's regular Mississippi County Finance Committee meeting, justices of the peace began a discussion of moving the county payday to stop employees from having to turn in hours prior to working them.

Currently, employees submit hours on the Wednesday before the Tuesday payday, projecting their time for Thursday and Friday. Their supervisors have until 10 a.m., Monday, to correct their timecards before their paychecks are issued the next day.

Justice Molly Houseworth Jackson posed the idea of moving the payday to Thursday, bringing up the issue after she recently learned about the practice.

"They are actually turning in time that has not been worked," Jackson said. "It seems like it could potentially create the need for extra work. With 200 employees, I would think that every day you have one or two that are sick or something comes up, so I think with every payroll you would have time that you're having to go back and deduct and amend. It just seems like maybe a duplicate there."

Finance director Kelli Jones pointed out in late 2017, auditors forced the county to change its payday from the last Friday of the pay period.

"At that point, when we were paying on Friday, we were actually prepaying because they were getting their checks before they worked on Friday, and then shift workers were getting their check before they worked Friday and Saturday," Jones said. 

Jones said auditors offered former Mississippi County Judge Terri Brassfield the option to implement a week holdback but she did not want employees to have to wait a whole week to be paid.

Instead, the county made the switch of issuing paychecks from the final Friday of the pay period to the next Tuesday. The move came at the time employees received a Christmas bonus, which was given on their normal Friday payday, and their paychecks were issued the next Tuesday. Paychecks have been dispersed on Tuesdays ever since that day, with all payroll having to be completed by mid-morning the Monday after the pay period ends.

"It's worked fine, but there is still a period of time that people are having to submit timesheets before they work," Jones said.

Justice Bill Nelson said before changing the payday, employees will need sufficient notice to plan ahead for bills that are auto-drafted from their bank account.

Jackson noted if county officials made the move now, it would be a way for employees to get their potential bonus before Christmas, though she agreed they need a notice to prepare.

On Tuesday, Dec. 17 - the next county payday - the quorum court will consider bonuses of $600 for full-time employees and $300 for part-time. After that, the next county payday would be after Christmas on Dec. 31, meaning, if approved, the bonuses would be given on New Year's Eve.

"I do think it's something that needs to be done," Jackson said. "I don't know that it's a good policy to turn in time that you haven't actually worked."

Justice Rick Ash suggested issuing the next paychecks on Tuesday,  Dec. 17 as usual and then paying the bonus that Friday.

He said two weeks later, on a Friday, the county employees could be paid again and then the Friday after the pay period ends becomes the new payday. "I agree you need to fix it because it's just creating more paperwork for the elected officials, the supervisor, and payroll department," Ash said, adding they shouldn't have to fix timecards after the fact.

County Assessor Harley Bradley said many employees live paycheck to paycheck.

"And two days can make a big difference," County Collector Susan McCormick added.

Ultimately, the board chose to keep the proposed bonuses on the Dec. 31 paycheck and further discuss the issue after the first of the year.

Jackson said she agrees that employees need at least a month's notice and suggested making any changes in the middle of a month to help those who have bills auto-drafted on the first of the month.

Justice Michael White, chairman of the Finance Committee, clarified that quorum court members do not get bonuses or raises. He added state law allows justices to get paid for attending a maximum of 28 meetings, though most attend more than 40 each year, with Monday's being his 55th of 2019. The bonuses would come out of the 2019 budget.

In other news, during the middle of the Finance Committee meeting, Insurance Committee members decided on which insurance plan to use in 2020.

After last week initially picking Stephens' proposal from QualChoice that would have raised insurance rates 5.7 percent or $105,000 but included a maximum of $4,500 out of pocket for employees, justices asked the company to quote rates for $500 and $1,000 deductibles.

The new Stephens quotes arrived Monday morning, and the Insurance Committee's final decision was to go with QualChoice's option that raises rates 11.4 percent or approximately $200,000 but reduces the employees' annual out of pocket to $3,000. 

The approved plan lowers the deductible from the current $2,500 to $1,000.

The current provider had told justices the best-case scenario was an insurance rate increase of 22 percent or approximately $400,000, but after shopping around officials chopped off half of the increase.

"We try to do all we can for our employees and still keep the county financially sound," White said.

Insurance has been a big piece of the budget talks, as the county knew it would face a significant increase because claims skyrocketed in 2019. 

Meanwhile, the board also discussed the proposed 2020 budget, which is scheduled to be voted on at the Dec. 17 quorum court meeting.

Between now and then, officials will work on a projected $218,000 shortfall at the county landfill for 2020 and a potential $213,686 deficit in the proposed Senior Citizens Center budget.

Justices also discussed an initial $486,436 shortfall in the county jail budget, though White directed Jones to pencil in raising projected sales tax revenue to $1,650,000 and show a transfer of more than $1.5 million from county general, carrying numbers straight across from 2019.

White pointed out while the state increased the per prisoner per day rate, the jail is seeing fewer state inmates.

"One of the big ones that's hurt us is the jail fees, particularly on Blytheville," White said, noting the county budgeted $287,000 this year and only received $87,000, with a projection that Blytheville will pay $107,00 for the year - a difference of $180,000. Sheriff Dale Cook said Blytheville is current on its jail fees.