County eliminates two part-time positions; more may follow

Posted 1/14/20

The Park County government shrunk last week, as commissioners cut a pair of part-time positions.

By unanimous votes, the commission eliminated a vacant custodial position, responsible for cleaning …

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County eliminates two part-time positions; more may follow

Posted

The Park County government shrunk last week, as commissioners cut a pair of part-time positions.

By unanimous votes, the commission eliminated a vacant custodial position, responsible for cleaning the basement of the courthouse, and a vacant planning and zoning post that handled permitting and inspections for septic systems.

And while there are no plans for any layoffs, commissioners said they plan to continue reducing their workforce through attrition to help narrow a projected $2 million budget gap. They also are talking about potential cuts to employee benefits and exploring the possibility of turning their custodial services over to a private company — a move that, if it were to prove financially feasible, would take more than a dozen positions off the county’s payroll.

“We don’t know what we’re going to find out,” Commissioner Jake Fulkerson said of privatizing, but “we can’t afford not to look at this stuff, in my book.”

In the meantime, the talk of cuts has unnerved some county workers.

Park County Engineer Brian Edwards — whose department oversees and maintains the county’s roads and bridges — said some of his key staffers are looking at other jobs.

“I’m nervous about that,” Edwards said. “A lot of the employees are nervous.”

He suggested the county should be careful about its “messaging” about the potential cuts, though Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said “the message is black and white.”

“Be prepared,” Edwards warned. “We’re going to lose some very good employees.”

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel suggested that Edwards reassure his best employees that their positions won’t be cut.

“I’m afraid they’re going to leave before I cut,” Edwards responded.

While on a mission to cut costs, commissioners did indicate that they want to provide a boost to employees by offering 2 percent raises in the coming year.

“I think we need to make damn sure that we compensate the people that are still working for us very well,” said Tilden.

 

Two positions scrapped

The commission implemented the hiring freeze after having to draw $1.3 million from reserves and delay road maintenance to balance the current 2019-2020 budget. All elected officials and department heads are required to get commission approval before filling any positions that become vacant.

In recent months, the county did away with two vacant posts: a full-time receptionist at the Park County Complex in Cody and a part-time audio/visual specialist at the Cody library; their supervisors had agreed to give up those jobs. The commission’s decision to eliminate the two additional part-time posts last week was different, as it came over the objections of their department heads.

Park County Planning Director Joy Hill presented data showing that her office received 251 applications in the first six months of the fiscal year — up roughly 20 percent from the same period in the previous year. Without a small wastewater administrator handling septic permits, Hill said residents and businesses will have to wait longer for reviews and inspections, leading to complaints.

“It’s going to hurt more than just septic [permitting],” she said. “I think it’s going to hurt the quality of the other [planning and zoning] work that’s being done as well.”

Commissioners said they understood that eliminating the position — which had been added last year — would make the office less efficient and slow down permitting, but felt the cut was necessary.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that’s not an extra,” Commissioner Fulkerson said of the post. “But … given our current climate and where we’re headed in six months, I can’t support replacing the position just from a straight budgetary standpoint.”

Commissioners told Hill not to overwork herself trying to make up for the lost position, saying they would handle complaints from the public.

Meanwhile, Park County Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Mike Garza had sought the commission’s blessing to replace a courthouse custodian. But commissioners preferred to try cutting back on the basement cleaning schedule.

The need for both positions may be revisited in 90 days. In the meantime, the county stands to save nearly $54,000 a year ($31,314 for the planning position and $22,515 for the custodial job) by leaving the positions empty, the clerk’s office said.

Commissioners discussed requiring every position to remain vacant for at least 90 days as a trial period, but appeared to settle on continuing to review positions on a case-by-case basis.

“There’s some critical positions that need to be filled,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said. “And there’s some that …”

 

Privatization?

As part of the number-crunching, Garza has been researching whether it would be cheaper to hire a private firm to maintain the lawns at the Park County Courthouse, Park County Complex and the building that houses the local drug court offices. However, switching to a private lawn care company would mean getting rid of a full-time groundskeeper now employed by the county, so “I would like that to be a last resort option,” Garza told commissioners.

For his part, Commissioner Thiel suggested the possibility of going quite a bit further with privatization; Thiel said a couple local companies have already expressed interest in working with him to explore the feasibility of taking over all of the county’s custodial work. The hope would be that such a move would save the county money.

Garza said he understood the idea, but thought the possibility might spook some of his employees into searching for other jobs.

“I get we’re in a budget crisis and I get we’re looking for money,” Garza said, but “we’re talking about the livelihoods of 15 to 17 people.”

Commissioners stressed that they were only looking at options.

“It may not even pencil out,” said Thiel; he said the county spends roughly $722,000 a year on custodians.

If the custodial services were privatized, Tilden said the commissioners would “do everything we can” to protect the jobs of the county’s workers — including by asking the contractor to hire them on.

 

Reduced benefits?

Commissioners, other elected officials and department heads also had a lengthy debate last week about possible changes and cuts to employee benefits.

Commissioners debated the idea of requiring employees to start contributing toward their health insurance premiums and eliminating a program that offers financial incentives for employees to undergo preventative testing. Opinions on those two ideas were mixed.

However, there did appear to be a clear consensus that, starting July 1, employees will be required to pay 0.25 percent of their salary toward their pensions with the Wyoming Retirement System.

That will amount to a roughly $3 to $6 deduction per paycheck for most employees, Clerk Colleen Renner said, and save the county about $14,000 per year.

There were some discussions about requiring bigger employee retirement contributions, but no apparent decision was made.

The discussions will likely continue until the budget is finalized in July.

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