Editorial:

County hiring freeze may be more trouble than it’s worth

Posted 11/26/19

In the coming weeks, Park County commissioners are set to consider a variety of different ways that might allow them to cut roughly $2 million out of the county’s budget.

We’re looking …

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Editorial:

County hiring freeze may be more trouble than it’s worth

Posted

In the coming weeks, Park County commissioners are set to consider a variety of different ways that might allow them to cut roughly $2 million out of the county’s budget.

We’re looking forward to seeing what ideas will be put on the table, after a task force led by Commissioner Joe Tilden spent months vetting different budget-cutting possibilities.

We’re also thankful that commissioners are proactively taking steps to trim the budget before there’s a crisis.

But regardless of what happens, we hope commissioners will give some thought to modifying their “hiring freeze.”

In most organizations, a hiring freeze means that departments are generally prohibited from bringing new people on board. If someone retires or leaves for another job, they aren’t replaced; their work is either taken on by their colleagues or simply goes by the wayside.

However, the concept has taken on a different form in Park County over the past few years. Commissioners have twice instituted hiring freezes, requiring all department heads and elected officials to convince them that each employee is necessary before hiring a replacement.

For instance, last week, commissioners required an explanation from Park County Public Health before allowing the department to add another person to its list of available temp workers.

In theory, the freeze is a terrific idea: Commissioners get a chance to scrutinize the value of each position and look for cost savings while county leaders remain keenly aware of the tight budget situation. In practice, however, the returns seem to have been minimal.

Between early 2016 and the fall of 2017 — when the first freeze was in effect — commissioners weighed in on dozens of open positions and, in the end, allowed every single one to be refilled. (Then, in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, commissioners actually added a net of 2 1/2 new positions.)

When the county imposed a new hiring freeze in July, Commission Chairman Jake Fulkerson warned it would have to be different this time around.

“We’re not just going to roll over on [approving] every position,” Fulkerson said, adding that, “it’s going to be a rough six months.”

However, with those six months coming to an end, this hiring freeze appears similar to the first: Every position that has come before the board since July has been approved for refilling.

The closest the commission came to axing a position was in August, when the Park County Library System asked to replace a full-time assistant librarian in Meeteetse. It would have been an odd first choice for elimination. Unlike some other county positions, doing away with the job would have immediately impacted the public — bringing more limited hours at the Meeteetse library — and part of the position is paid for by the Meeteetse school district.

Commissioners ultimately agreed to keep on the full-time assistant librarian in exchange for library officials agreeing to eliminate a part-time position in Cody.

So the hiring freeze can be credited with having done some good for the budget.

But after three years of minimal results, we wonder if there are better tools out there than these kinds of “soft” freezes. Some time seems wasted in bringing every department head and elected official in front of the commission for what has amounted to a warning, followed by permission.

We certainly understand the rationale behind the hiring freeze: The county needs to find any way it can to cut costs — and kudos to commissioners for undertaking those hard conversations.

However, as the county’s budget task force prepares to present their findings, we’re looking forward to seeing some different cost-saving ideas.

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