By Emily Bialkowski
Houston County currently bargains with five unions; a sixth group is in the nascent stages of forming.
Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger reported on the matter during the Houston County Board meeting Sept. 10.
She said a Maintenance Status Quo Order from the Bureau of Mediation Services was received by her office on Aug. 29 informing her that a petition requesting the representation of engineering assistants has been filed. The order is issued to preserve existing labor conditions for these employees until the matter is closed.
“We cannot change any work conditions while the order is pending,” Arrick-Kruger said.
There are two, possibly three, individuals that fall under the engineering assistant description. This group of workers is the only group not currently represented by a union in the County Highway Department.
“The next step is for the county – along with Local 49 – to review the definition of the unit and make any objections or friendly amendments,” Arrick-Kruger said, adding, “This stage isn’t overly complex.”
Once the definition of the unit is agreed upon the organizing group must vote and, assuming they agree to organize, then the county will enter into negotiations in an effort to produce an agreement outlining wages and benefits, among other employment stipulations.
“It’s within their legal right to organize independently, and I don’t see why we can’t get this closed by the end of the year,” Arrick-Kruger said.
The information was met with little comment from the board.
Commissioner Dana Kjome mentioned it would be another group to bargain with and wondered if that would consume a lot of time. But Arrick-Kruger said she didn’t see time as a huge obstacle.
No action was needed on the item.
Per state law, the board adopted its preliminary levy with a 3.52 percent increase and a $10,855,549 budget. The numbers represent a first stab, if you will, at the 2014 budget and include a $178,744 deficit.
“We do have some fine tuning to do,” County Finance Director Carol Lapham said.
Most years the county opts to set the preliminary levy slightly higher than expected in hopes of trimming the budget. One thing is for sure: The county can’t go higher than 3.52 percent, per state law.
“My thinking is we set the levy at 3.52 percent with hope to bring it down,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt said. “But where do you cut in one- and two-person departments? It’s my understanding other counties are depleting their fund balance.”
In past years Houston County has dipped into the fund balance as well.
“We’re tight; the departments run pretty tight,” Lapham said.
“We’d have to cut services, but that’s another discussion, I guess,” Schuldt said.
Indeed, the Board of Commissioners will have some tough decisions ahead.
Several other items were approved prior to adjournment:
• The board approved final payment on the County Highway 26 reconstruction project. The project exceeded initial estimates by $21,000 for a total cost of $1.146 million. The project was supported with state funds.
• The board awarded the Caledonia crosswalk painting project to B & D Sealcoating at a cost of $9,550. The city will pay for a portion of this project.
• The board approved a bridge repair quote from Minimum Construction for just under $65,000. The item is budgeted.
• The board approved hiring Michael Meredith as a half-time jailer and dispatcher. Meredith was previously a 67-day, temporary employee.
• The board approved bringing in Alicia Arenz as a 67-day, temporary jailer and dispatcher to replace Meredith.
• And finally, under the advisement of County Auditor Char Meiners, the board agreed to institute a new temporary liquor license policy.
The policy requires those seeking a temporary liquor license (for a fundraiser, for example) to provide a certificate of insurability for the event.
The county’s insurance provider does not cover such liability so Meiners said, “I think we’d wise to have the policy,” adding that her research indicates such coverage will cost the applicant about $125 per day.
“I think it’s best that we require they have insurance. Everybody else has to,” Schuldt said.
The board favored the recommendation and gave approval.