Jun 30, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterA hefty bump in health insurance contributions and a small raise ate up most of the $1.03 million Fremont County Commissioners had left to allocate for their proposed fiscal year 2014 budget.
Commissioners Tuesday allocated about $554,000 to cover a 15 percent increase in the cost of the county's health benefit plan.
In the new budget, as in the past, the county will pay 85 percent of the cost of each employee's plan. Staff will continue to pay 15 percent, but their contributions will rise proportionally to the 15 percent increase in the program's cost.
Also on June 25, the commissioners decided to spend money on an administrative assistant in District Court, a raise for the Sheriff's office dispatch staff, and personnel for the Fremont County Treasurer. Only about $94,000 was left after the meeting, and that amount will be slated for cash reserves, officials said.
Raises for dispatchers
At the June 25 meeting, the board approved a motion by Commissioner Stephanie Kessler who suggested granting salary increases to the county's dispatch center staff.
Commissioners at a June 18 meeting cut two new positions at the Fremont County 911 Dispatch Center and removed raises for the agency's employees from the Sheriff's Office proposed budget. In a letter responding to the June 18 decision, Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker wrote the current staffing level is too small and leads to delays in responding to calls from the public. He also said the salaries are inadequate.
"Since 2005 the Dispatch Center has hired 45 persons only retaining 6 of them with the biggest contributing factor of turnover being the salary," Hornecker stated in the letter.
County Clerk Julie Freese said the raises that were approved this year for dispatchers range from $3,000 to $5,000 a year per person and total $70,000 annually.
Commissioners did not approve adding personnel, which would have cost about $47,000 each a year.
In a June 18 meeting, the county board had removed from its proposed budget an administrative position for the district court of the Wyoming 9th Judicial District in Lander. District judge Norman E. Young came to the June 25 meeting to ask the Commission to reinstate the administrative position for his court. He said the total cost of the position is about $31,000.
Young said he has one of the largest caseloads in Wyoming.
in the state, but he tries to decide cases in a reasonably timely manner.
"That county position the county has provided for the last 29 years helps us to do that," Young said.
Obtaining state funds for the employee would be possible but would take at least a year.
The Commission voted 3-2 to fund the position for another year and ask the judge to seek state funding. The county has funded the position for years though the state typically pays for district court personnel.
The commission also had proposed removing any salary increases and additional personnel from the proposed budget. But this month the board decided to raise nearly every county employee's salary by $750 per year at a total cost of about $276,000.
Personnel whose salaries rose in the last year - including deputy county attorneys, elected officials and some Sheriff's office staff - will not see the raise.
The raise will be about a 1.8 percent increase over the average county employee's salary of $41,000 a year.
In budget hearings over the last month, nearly every department and elected official said 2-5 percent salary increases for their employees were warranted and necessary, and some managers said merit-based raises up to 14 percent were due for a few employees.
At the June 25 meeting, Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger asked the Commission to put $40,000 back in his proposed budget for salary bonuses, which the county board had cut out. The Treasurer said the bonuses he gives for good work are a regular part of his employees' compensation and one of his management methods. His budget has remained flat or decreased in recent years, he said.
Commissioners said they wanted Harnsberger to give regular salaries like other county departments, and the Treasurer took issue with their position.
"I believe the Commission is trying to manage the Treasurer's office," he said. "That's what I was elected for."
In the end, the county board put the $40,000 back in the Treasurer's budget but directed it be allocated as part of the employees' regular salaries and not bonuses.
The Commission will advertise a proposed budget June 30 and hold a public hearing on it July 8.
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