Jail staffing put under microscope

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


In a preview of discussion to come, Houston County Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger told the county board that significant effort is being put into evaluating jail staffing needs.

The 2013 budget for staffing the jail is $899,837, including salaries and benefits. The hope is to create “flexibility with accountability for the county,” Arrick-Kruger said.

Several factors play into the expense of running the jail, including the fact that it is a 24/7 operation; that it must meet Department of Corrections guidelines; that a combination of full time, half time and temporary employees are used to accommodate the schedule; and that employees will have overtime as well as paid time off.

“We don’t want to over staff, but we certainly don’t want to under staff,” Arrick-Kruger said.

Also playing a factor in this equation is the new Affordable Health Act, which will require employers to supply employees working at least 30 hours a week non-prorated health benefits.

Arrick-Kruger characterized meetings held thus far on the topic as productive and thoughtful. “We’re taking a broader look than what we initially planned, but  we’re really doing a nice comprehensive job and hoping in the next week or two to have some things for you. It’s complex, but we’ve really got a handle on it,” she said.

A meeting with the union must also take place in regard to shifts, she added.


Highway department

In other June 11 meeting business, the board approved two highway department requests.

The first was a right of way plat for the County Highway 5 project where it intersects with Highway 249 out to the Caledonia city limits.

The plat was prepared by the county and already approved by the city, County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski said.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt said the change is badly needed, and the item passed with unanimous approval.

The board also awarded the annual seal coating bid to Fahrner Asphalt for $423,521. The highway department only budgeted $400,000 for this road maintenance, but Pogodzinski said he is going to sit down with the contractor to see if there’s room to cut cost. The other bid came in at about $500,000. The county roads around La Crescent will be the beneficiary of seal coating this year.

Commissioner Teresa Walter wanted to know if there would be any detours as a result of the project. Pogodzinski said he believed any disruption in traffic would be temporary and not last more than a day.


Finance update

An update from the county finance director, Carol Lapham, yielded no big surprises. With 42 percent of the year complete, the board was able to see which departments – and line items – were on target and which ones have exceeded the budget to date.

“Most of them are within the range of what they’d be this time of year. There aren’t any way off,” Lapham said.

Other than prisoner medical expenses and worker’s compensation, most of the forecasts have been accurate.

In the highway department, a new phone system has cost roughly $4,000 more than projected, but  county staff remain confident that leverage exists to pay this expense from other accounts.

Consulting services for human services has also exceeded expectation, and several new employees have needed training, creating a void in that line item.

That said, no one is panicking because the overall picture is looking good.

“I’m very impressed with what you do,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said after the report, adding that updates like this are helpful.


Economic development

Finally, in the commissioner comments portion of the meeting, Judy Storlie said the Economic Development Authority is looking for citizen representation from Brownsville and Eitzen. The committee is charged with promoting activities and projects that will enhance the economic state of the county with efforts like tourism brochures, business retention and attracting new business. They also help secure grants for the county – with the help of a consultant – and connect small businesses with resources.