County to merge departments for cost savings
Parts of two departments will become one with the county seeing a potential cost savings as the result.
Members of the county’s finance and personnel committee on March 16 gave their approval to a plan to create a new land information department that merges the existing real property lister’s office with the county surveyor’s office.
Existing county surveyor Robert Meyer has announced plans to retire. Rather than fill his position, the county is looking at merging the two offices which work to identify parcels and prepare tax records for them. The biggest question to arise at last week’s meeting was over if one of the existing staff members should be promoted to department head or if, as committee member Scott Mildbrand advocated, that it would be better to put it under the register of deeds office as far as departmental oversight.
Mildbrand said such a move would avoid creating another department head. This would potentially save the county money in wages as the ratings for the positions would not need to be adjusted to account for additional administrative duties. He said he felt the staff in the new department should still get pay raises as they will be taking on more duties but suggested it could be more efficient to have it under Register of Deeds Jaymie Kohn.
“To me it doesn’t work,” said committee member Lester Lewis objecting to having the office under Kohn and saying See COUNTY on page 16 the real property lister should be the department head. “This is an employee driven idea. When employees come up with an idea that consolidates and makes it run more efficiently, I think they deserve the chance to make it work,” he said.
He said the shift in the departments is a move that he said would help the county retain employees and if it was not done, he said they would likely lose employees. “I think they have come up with a good plan,” he said.
He objected to the idea that they are creating a new department head, because Meyer was already a department head for the surveyor department. He said with the reorganization they will have the same number of department heads as before.
Meyer noted that across the state there are many configurations with how the office’s jobs are arranged, but was opposed to the idea of putting it under the register of deeds simply because that department doesn’t have a day to day working knowledge of what their officers do.
Committee member Rollie Thums also favored creating the department with its own department head. Thums noted the employees came forward with the idea and a plan to make it work. He said that in the current climate in the county where they are looking for dollars and places to be more efficient, he wants employees to be more proactive in coming up with ideas. “I think we should honor what they have asked for,” Thums said.
Mildbrand noted that whatever is decided at the committee level it will need to go to the full county board. On a voice vote, Mildbrand voted against the measure but it passed, sending the proposal to the full county board.
Board member Rod Adams questioned the change in the job descriptions that eliminated giving assistance to the county treasurer’s office. “Why would you write that out of the job description?” he asked noting that the staff in the real property lister’s office has always helped when the treasurer’s office was busy.
Lester Lewis said he didn’t see a problem with the real property listers helping in another office as needed.
Committee members approved putting the line into the job descriptions that they would assist in the treasurer’s office as needed.
Powerline grant requests
Committee members reviewed and acted on a series of requests for power line impact fee grant funds ranging from park playground improvements to assistance with housing projects.
The Gilman Development Foundation requested $20,000 to complete the installation of a patio area outside of the former bank building that was purchased by the group and turned into a gift shop. The foundation has applied for a Vibrant Spaces grant with the hope that it will match the funds dollar for dollar with what the county is able to give. The project total is $43,000 and organizers noted that if they did not receive all the funding they would need to scale back the work planned. Lewis noted that it is a worthwhile project and that typically the county does not give the full amount requested. He made the motion to recommend the county board approve $15,000 for the project. The motion carried.
Kathy Hemer and Kate Metz presented a request from a citizen group raising money for playground improvements at Sackett Lake County Park. They reported they have have raised about $10,000 so far for the project to install a large pirate-ship themed climber at the location. The climber will accommodate youth from six months old to 12-13 years old. The goal is to have it installed by late spring. Committee members voted to recommend giving $15,000 of grant funds for the project.
Rib Lake Library asked for $6,000 to enclose the ceiling area of the shelter built outside the library. The entire project was done by donations and volunteer work and they are looking to close in the rafters as a safety precaution since kids have already climbed up into them. Committee members recommended approving the request.
The Gilman Community Betterment Association sought funds to help make improvements in the Gilman Village park to help with completing a sand volleyball court and to fund some music in the park events. Mildbrand supported giving funds for park improvements but raised concern about paying for bands and entertainment. Committee members approved recommending giving $6,000.
A proposal from Commonwealth Apartments to help fill the funding gap for the construction of income-eligible workforce housing apartments in Medford was met with open hostility from some committee members. The project when proposed had a $10.5 million cost but is coming in at $11.3 million due to increases in cost and interest. Representatives from Commonwealth said they are looking at ways to fill the $850,000 gap to make the project move forward.
“I don’t know who sent you here, but it is totally out of our realm,” Thums said. He said he would be very disappointed if the committee voted to send this forward. He said it was “way out of line” for the business to even request the funds. The request died for lack of a motion.
In other business, committee members:
Approved sending to the county board for final approval, the revisions made to the employee handbook in regard to overtime.
Approved housekeeping changes to county codes for hiring deputies to match what has been practice with what the codes state.