Hill County Commission discusses employee longevity policy change in meeting


Last updated 11/20/2020 at 1:29pm

The Hill County Commission is considering a change on policies governing when employees switch departments in the county.

The proposal would allow employees to maintain their longevity and yearly raises along with it when they change departments.

When making the motion to approve the resolution during the commission’s weekly business meeting Thursday, Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said it seems unfair to effectively make employees start from scratch building longevity for switching to a job that makes more sense for them.

“It seems punitive and it may not be a fair labor practice,“ she said.

County employees get a one percent raise for each year they are employed with the county, but under current policy if they take a position in a different department they lose any raises they’ve accumulated, which McLean said disincentivises people from advancing their careers the way they want to.

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley, who wrote the policy change, said McLean was absolutely right about it being a fair labor practice issue and said similar polices are in place in many other counties.

“It’s a liability to the county,” she said, “... We don’t want to be punishing employees for furthering their careers.”

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Sue Armstrong said complications to this change could arise when it comes to how this policy is applied to deputies and elected officials.

Alley said the policy is made primarily with clerks and secretaries in mind, and agreed that the complications would be taken into account in the future.

She said the grade matrix the county uses is meant to group jobs with similar skills and qualifications together.

Armstrong said some adjustments to the matrix would likely need to be made, but fundamentally there’s nothing wrong with it for the purposes of the policy change.

Hill County Auditor Kathy Olson said it seems unfair, saying someone just brought into a department could be getting paid more than someone whose already been there for years.

“You’re taking away the opportunity of the employee by doing that as well,” she said. “Because as a department head are you going to take on someone with 15 years and bring them in above everybody else?”

Alley said employees keeping their longevity is about service to the county.

“We’re recognizing employees contribution to the county,” she said. “... This is about service to the employer not service to a specific department.”

Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown said this kind of reward for service is common in the public and private sector.

“I agree,” she said, “ ... Pretty much everywhere you go people are credited for their service.“

People at the meeting also discussed whether this policy should be retroactive, and Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said he agreed with the spirit of the policy change but wanted things clearer before implementation to make things easier for Olson.

“I do think we need to get a clearer understanding because way too often we put Kathy in a bad position trying to determine and interpret,” he said.

McLean agreed, and said, given the nature of the policy change, they should contact department heads in the county to give them a heads up on the change so everyone is aware of what’s going on before they vote.

All three commissioners voted down the motion for the policy change and said they would bring it up at next week’s business meeting or at the next county officials meeting.

People at the meeting also discussed the county’s policy of providing automatic raises after six month for new employees.

Brown proposed eliminating the raise and starting employees at the six month level right off the bat to attract people to work for the county.

Alley agreed, and said she thinks this would bring new people to the county and increase worker motivation sooner rather than later.

“Psychologically, it’s a $10-an-hour-job, so an employee will say, ‘I’m going to do $10-an-hour worth of work,’ whereas if we’re compensating people a little bit more that’s actually an incentive to work harder,” she said. “It does attract more candidates. You should see how many people are applying to be contact tracers at $18-an-hour, we have applications flying in for those positions.”

The commission nominated Ryan Korth to the seat on the Havre City-County Airport Board to take the place of Roger Lincoln.

Peterson said the commission interviewed three different people for the position all of whom were qualified and worthy of the position but Korth stood out to him.

McLean said he’s clearly qualified but was concerned about a board member is that the county’s appointee representing the outlying county even though they don’t live out there and are relatively new to the community.

“There do tend to be differences in judgment and opinion between people who live out there and those who live in the city,” she said. “That’s my only reservation.”

Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland said he, too, had reservations and thought there were perhaps more qualified candidates.

The motion to appoint Korth passed 2-1 with Wendland as the dissenting vote.

The commission also voted unanimously for an amendment that would make CARES Act funding part of Flexible Spending Accounts at the county.

Olson said it was a federal mandate and their wasn’t any real reason not to sign it.

The commission also agreed to begin advertising for the position of county superintendent of schools.

Marie Deegan, who occupies the position, declined to run for the position again, but received the most write- in votes in the 2020 election.

Wendland read a letter to the commission from Deegan saying she was not interested in another term and requested that the county begin advertising to find a replacement.

The commissioners also briefly discussed bid packages for the Courthouse Security Project, and for the Hill County Detention Center control panel.

McLean said both packages are still in the works, with Bear Paw Development Corp. assisting with the former.

She said the latter is nearing completion.


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