County approves new policies to boost employee moraleWORTHINGTON — Tuesday morning marked the final Nobles County board meeting for outgoing commissioners David Benson, Diane Thier and Vern Leistico, and while there were well wishes, a break for birthday cupcakes for Leistico and a bit of reflection on the trio’s combined 38 years of public service, there was also much work to be done.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Tuesday morning marked the final Nobles County board meeting for outgoing commissioners David Benson, Diane Thier and Vern Leistico, and while there were well wishes, a break for birthday cupcakes for Leistico and a bit of reflection on the trio’s combined 38 years of public service, there was also much work to be done.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion focused on new policies and programs for county employees. Discussions have been ongoing since the county formed a management team last summer. The team is comprised of several department heads, two county commissioners and the interim county administrator, and they were tasked with helping the county move in a positive direction.
Nobles County Community Services Director Stacie Golombiecki and Attorney Kathleen Kusz brought forth policy recommendations Tuesday on establishing a flexible work schedule for non-union county employees.
The goal is to reduce overtime costs for employees and help boost morale. At the same time, a flexible schedule will allow some departments the ability to serve clients outside the traditional work hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“From the community service perspective … many of those people (we need to assist) work the same hours that we are,” said Golombiecki, referring to the new policy as a win-win.
“The ultimate goal was to better treat our clients,” added Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr.
Despite a motion by Leistico to table the policy until January, when the new board of commissioners can take action, the motion failed on a 3-2 vote.
Kusz asked for trust to put the responsibility on department heads to oversee the flexible scheduling, and commissioners ultimately supported that request. Department heads will come up with a plan that works best for their nonunion employees and implement it Jan. 1. A review by commissioners will be done in six months.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said Commissioner Marv Zylstra. “I think it’s something that can work out and ultimately we’ll be serving the clients better. We haven’t had that flexibility before and I think it’s needed and long overdue.”
Commissioners also gave support for another proposal by a team of county employees Tuesday — an employee wellness and recognition program. The program will be funded by the county at a cost not to exceed $5,000 annually.
Justin Stevenson, secretary of the Nobles County Library, said the wellness program will promote health screenings and offer seminars or fitness programs — perhaps even a Biggest Loser contest among county employees. The recognition program would include an annual employee awards ceremony each May during Public Service Awareness Week. Employees would be recognized for 10 years of county service, and in five-year intervals after that. Awards of excellence and performance would also be presented.
“We’re very excited to be part of this program for employees,” said Nan Henning, a Community Services employee. “A year ago, we didn’t know any program of this type would be possible for Nobles County employees.”
Demuth said he was in support of the program, sharing a story of a retirement of more than 30-year county employee that involved fellow staff sneaking in a cake because it wasn’t allowed by the previous administration.
Under the employee recognition program, retirement receptions for employees with 10 or more years of service to the county will be funded and include cake and coffee or punch.
“I think that going forward, this will not only define us … from surrounding counties, but give us a new look in Nobles County going forward,” said Stevenson of the policy, which takes effect Jan. 1.
In other action, the board:
* Adopted the 2013 property tax levy at $10,942,427, a 4.79 percent increase over 2012; and set the 2013 budget at $27,868,975.
* Approved a step increase for Kusz. Her salary for 2013 will be $98,191. Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) of 1.25 percent were approved for other elected officials, with salaries as follows: $77,235 for Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Balster; $64,540 for Recorder Lynn Wilson; and $91,538 for Sheriff Kent Wilkening. Budgets for their departments were also approved.
* On a 3-2 vote, a motion to keep county commissioner salaries the same — at $17,500 per year — was approved. Commissioners Marv Zylstra, Diane Thier and Vern Leistico voted in favor of not changing the salaries, while David Benson and Bob Demuth Jr. were opposed.
“In the past, I’ve recommended little increases annually rather than a big increase a few years down the road,” Demuth said.
The 1.25 percent pay increase that was discussed for commissioners would have amounted to a total impact on the 2013 budget of $1,300, or .01 percent of the overall levy.
* Approved a contract extension with interim Nobles County Administrator Vijay Sethi. The current contract expires Dec. 31, and the extension will carry Sethi’s employment through Feb. 28 — or until such time that his services are no longer needed prior to the end of February.
* Approved payment of $29,189.52 to Vetter Johnson Architects for energy efficiency improvement projects completed Nov. 1-30; and approved payment of $4,808.57 for professional services related to the Nobles County Library study.
* Approved payment of $2,295 to Clair Van Grouw Construction for partial window replacement in the Government Center.
* Learned Nobles County Human Services will receive nearly $143,000 in 2013 funding from the Minnesota Department of Health for health programming. Also, it was announced that Pat Stewart, with Cottonwood-Jackson Community Health, will serve as interim public health supervisor in Nobles County until the position can be filled.
* Approved purchase of a $60,000 hydraulic pipe jetter for the public works department. The equipment will be purchased in 2013 with revenues in the county’s ditch system budget. The jetter will replace an aging pipe rodder in the department.
* Received an annual report from Sara Wahl of the Southwest Crisis Center. The agency endured a 20 percent cut in its budget in 2012, resulting in a loss of $52,000. Wahl said that the five-county collaboration lost one position and combined an office as a result of the funding cut.
Nobles County continues to have the highest workload of any of the five counties, followed by Cottonwood County.
While funding for the crisis center does not cover prevention education, Wahl said donations to the organization have been used to bring programming into several schools in Nobles County. Subjects covered in those sessions range from bullying, healthy relationships, good touch-bad touch, sexting and cyber-bullying.
* Approved membership to the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce at a cost not to exceed $1,000 per year.
* Approved a radio tower agreement with Worthington School District 518 for an antenna the district has on the county’s tower.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.