Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

McLean discusses county issues at Pachyderm meeting


Last updated 9/13/2022 at 12:29pm

Havre Daily News/Tim Leeds

Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean talks to North Central Pachyderms Friday in the Duck Inn.

Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean, running as a Republican for re-election, talked about numerous issues and projects while attending a North Central Pachyderm meeting Friday.

She named many projects and issues, some that started before she was elected commissioner and some since she was elected, some involving federal COVID assistance money and some not. Finishing those projects is one of the reasons she decided to run for re-election, she said.

"I think I need to try to keep these going," she said.

McLean faces the commission's executive assistant, Democrat Sheri Williams, and independent Les Odegard in the November election.

McLean said one of the issues she wants to deal with is figuring out how to hire good people and keep them with the county longer, but problem is not unique to the county, she added. Businesses and governments and organizations all over are having a hard time hiring and keeping employees.

She spent several minutes talking about insurance issues, including what she called "inflated" premiums for health insurance for county employees.

She said the cost to the county if an employee picks the top coverage is $1,410 a month. Part of the reason that is so high, she said, is to keep the cost of adding family members to the plan.

McLean said she wants everyone to have insurance, and she wants employees' family members to have insurance, but she believes more of the cost of adding family members should be borne by the employees.

She said the insurance doesn't fix the root problem anyway, which is the pay scale.

During the discussion about picking the plan the county now is on, numerous officials and employees said the reason to take the option the county selected was to offset comparatively low pay.

McLean said the county also appointed a committee to look at insurance, a committee that includes Sheri Williams, but instead of coming back with ideas to save on health or life insurance, the committee recommended switching its property casualty insurance to an out-of-town provider from the local insurance provider used. McLean said the commission voted 2-0 to make that switch on a day she was ill and out of the office.

When she found out, McLean said, she went to the local provider, apologized for "dropping the ball," and convinced her fellow commissioners to switch back.

"I'm sorry, we need to shop locally, we need to support our taxpayers," McLean said.

She said the county made some adjustments and saved some money on property casualty insurance by reducing coverage on some items, so it saved some money but "we are not insuring everything fully."

In a response Monday, the committee said that was not actually what happened.

"The Hill County Insurance Committee was formed in March of 2021 by request of the county commissioners," the response said. "Despite multiple requests from the committee members, the goals and full intention of what the committee was formed to achieve was never communicated even to this day."

The committee looked into other health insurance providers, and recommended the county pick up additional life insurance from a Great Falls company recommended by Commissioner Jake Strissel, a committee member at the time. The commission passed that recommendation, the statement said.

The committee recommended the county switch its coverage for Workers Compensation Insurance to a Great Falls company, which showed significant savings, the statement said.

The commission voted 2-0, on a day McLean was ill and out of the office, to move workers compensation to the Great Falls company, which was not the committee"s recommendation.

After the vote, the committee sent a letter to the commission at the request of McLean, reiterating its request to move workers compensation, but not the property and casualty, to the new company, and it be hired to build a safety program for county employees, and that the county move as quickly as possible to hire the company.

The next week, the commission voted to stay with the local company instead.

McLean said she was instrumental in getting the county COVID relief dollars through the CARES Act and American Relief Plan Act, bringing in millions of dollars.

She said she primarily worked with Auditor Kathy Olson on the CARES Act money, with the commission agreeing she would work as the lead.

She said she participated in numerous weekly calls which did not include other commissioners or other elected officials.

She said the county received more than $1.4 million in CARES Act funding alone, and also is receiving ARPA funding which is essentially for infrastructure.

She talked of many completed and ongoing improvements in the courthouse and throughout the county, including replacing outdated equipment at the sheriff's office - tactical equipment and bullet-proof vests can get very expensive, she added - right down to replacing chairs in the office. She said she was surprised at that request, but when she looked she couldn't believe the old, worn-out chairs in the office.

She said she has been a major advocate of adding a wellness program for county employees and recently had wellness screenings and had a recent blood drive.

"The last couple of years have shown how important health is," she added.

She said the county added a cybersecurity system at the courthouse, added security cameras and computerized locks, updated phones and updated computers.

"That's the world we live in today," McLean said.

Another major issue is the Milk River Levee, which the Army Corps of Engineers has listed as not up to code.

If the levee is not upgraded, including removing or moving fences, buildings, trees and even gophers, the people in the flood plain - which includes Havre as far as south of the courthouse, would have to buy flood insurance.

That is being worked on, including looking at redrawing the funding district, which now is basically North Havre to a section along First Street, so all protected are paying into the fund, she said.

The county is funneling ARPA dollars into the levee project, she said, and also is working on other improvements including sewage lift stations that need work, work on upgrading the Hingham sewer system and work in Box Elder.

Sheri Williams

She also said more needs to be done to get the county departments working together better. She said she doesn't want to usurp the roles of other elected officials, but she wants to know how their departments work.

"I understand we have not had the best communication. Yes, it comes out as dissension, as no one getting along, but when I sent an email to another count official and I don't get a reply ... there's something going on there," McLean said.

"It goes both ways," Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown said Friday after being told of McLean's comments.

She said she has sent emails to the commission and never received a reply, and also said she has on numerous occasions invited the commissioners to her office to be shown something about a specific issue or about how processes work in the office.

They have never taken her up on her offer, Brown said.


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