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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Oconto County Accepts New Compensation Plan

“The world changed quite suddenly as a result of Act 10,” Charles Carlson of the Carlson Dettman Consulting, LLC told Oconto County Board at its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 14, as he presented results of his firm’s recently completed Employee Classification and Compensation Study of nearly 300 county positions.

He was referring Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill passed in early 2011, which eliminated union contract negotiations as the way government entities handle wages and working conditions for all employees except those working in public safety.

The change created a need for a new way to handle wage and benefit issues, Carlson said. As a result, about six months ago Oconto County Board hired his firm for $55,000 to do the wage and classification study that now replaces union contract negotiations.

After nearly an hour of intense explanation and discussion the board adopted the study with only one dissenting vote, 29 to 1 vote, with Supervisor Gregory Sekela opposed and Supervisor Ron Korzeniewski absent. Korzeniewski had been present at the start of the 9 a.m. meeting but was excused at 10:45 a.m., before the vote was called. The new classification and compensation study results will go into effect on Sunday, Dec. 29.

Act 10 totally changed the way wages and benefits are handled for most public employees in Wisconsin. It outlawed mandatory union membership and collective bargaining for all public employees except those in public safety positions such as law enforcement and fire protection. It also allows comparisons between similar positions in public and private employ for compensation rates, which the previous rules did not.

“Wages used to be governed by union negotiations,” Carlson told the board. “Now it’s on you - except for Law Enforcement - to decide how to compensate your employees, since the old rule book got thrown away and there is not one to replace it.”

He said many counties are having classification/compensation studies done at this time to fill the vacuum.

In the case of Oconto county, each employee was asked to summarize their duties and responsibilities. Department heads then reviewed these summaries for accuracy, after which Carlson and his staff reviewed them in comparison with other Wisconsin counties and in comparison with other jobs within Oconto County.

Counties, he noted, are complex, “We’ve got a lot of people doing a lot of different things.”

Carlson said they worked with the Oconto County Personnel Committee throughout the study, and at the committee request, also made comparisons with comparable responsibilities in the private sector, which they were not able to do under the old rules. They measured 53 jobs as benchmarks.

When the study results go into effect on Sunday, Dec. 29, most current county employees will start at the mid-point of the pay range for their job classification, and get raises if deemed appropriate after performance evaluations made at regular intervals. Raises will no longer be given simply for longevity in the position.

Implementation of the study means most current employees are put into an evaluation slot that gives them at least a slight pay raise. Some who were found overpaid for their job classification will be “red circled” until the other wages catch up. No one will get a cut in pay. Pay for public employees is public information, and charts with the pay ranges for each position were attached to information that went to County Board and is available for public inspection in the courthouse.

“The fact that few Oconto County employees were paid above the level for their job duties means you’ve been managing your job,” Carlson told the board.

“Now we’re asking a commitment on your part to support performance-based management and put the study results in place.” County Board will have to be sure the job performance evaluations are done regularly and the results implemented, he said.

He commented that in many counties they have found that members of the union’s negotiating teams had not had their performance evaluated since their probationary period ended.

“Union negotiations were essentially a political process, not an economic process,” Carlson went on. “This will put everybody on the same pay plan.”

Since 50 percent of Oconto County employees are over age 50, there will be a tremendous turnaround of personnel in the next several years, Carlson said. Since starting pay is well below mid-grade, he went on, “This means you will save money with new hires, but also means a tremendous loss of talent.”

Carlson expressed faith the job market will improve some day, and with the study implemented Oconto County will have the tools to attract and retain good employees. However, he added, “While this is a good plan to start with, we’ve got to stay on top of the game.”

Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann told the board it will cost the county an estimated $235,000 additional to implement the pay plan for the first year, and if no one retires, the cost in increased pay will be $320,000 the second year. The committee has decided to implement the pay changes over a 2-year period. Then, as long-time employees retire and jobs are filled at starting pay grades, there will be some savings.

The 2014 budget includes $250,000 to cover implementation of the new pay scale.

Hamann felt most county employees are much happier with the proposed pay scale than with the old wage structures, but some do feel their jobs were not ranked correctly. They will get two chances to appeal, once to Carlson Dettman and once to County Board. Four positions in particular have been paid the same for 20 years but now are ranked at different pay grades, and the people who hold those jobs want to keep their pay the same. Hamann said 12 county employees have told him they will file an appeal. “If it’s less than 10 percent, I’m happy with that,” Hamann declared.

There were some objections before the vote, but all were answered.

Top paid positions in the county are the Administrative Coordinator, at $50.58 per hour, mid-grade, and Health and Human Services Director at $46.81, mid-grade. Among the lowest paid are common laborer and some clerk typist positions at $16.29 per hour, up 29 cents per hour from their rate at the end of 2013, three maintenance positions at $13.88 per hour, up from $13.12. There are also some currently vacant positions to be paid $12.85 per hour if and when they are filled.

“I’m glad the study was done and I think Carlson Davis did an excellent job, but I do not approve of the appeal process,” remarked Supervisor Rose Stellmacher.

“We’re pretty restricted on what you can appeal,” Carlson said, assuring her there is no need to be afraid of the appeal process. “Our firm doesn’t hire any rookies, but we could have made a mistake, we could have missed something. There has to be an appeal process.”

Asked if the county was locked in once the study recommendations are adopted, Carlson said they are not, “The board can change its mind at any time.”

Before approving the study results for adoption the board amended the pay schedule moving the Civil Process Specialist and Records Specialist positions in the sheriff’s department from Class F to Class G, a higher pay grade. “The sheriff made an argument I couldn’t refuse,” Hamann commented before the 29 to one vote in favor of adoption. Sole opposing vote was cast by Supervisor Gregory Sekela. Supervisor Ron Korzeniewski had been excused from the meeting.

On motion by Stellmacher, resolutions authorizing new positions had been postponed until after adoption of the new pay schedule.

Subsequently the board agreed to make the Corporation Counsel position a full time rather than a part time job, effective Wednesday, Jan. 3. Annual salary will be $100,714.

They approved an additional part-time telecommunicator position to help eliminate overtime in the Sheriff Department.

Following explanations by Hamann and Child Support Director Joy Hogan, the board agreed to create a new legal secretary position for the Child Support office. Janelle Zak is to fill the new position, with a pay rate of $17.05 to $21.93 per hour. The Clerk Typist II position in the District Attorney office is to be filled by Dec. 29 through the normal county recruitment process. Hamann explained before the vote that they were restoring a half-time position that had been taken away a year ago. Funding the restored full time job is provided in the 2014 budget. To questions on need for a legal secretary, Hogan explained most of the work is with the Corporation Counsel, involving mainly court documents and other legal communications.

The meeting started with a ceremony recognizing County Board Supervisors who are also veterans. Holly Hoppe, Veterans Service Officer for the county, who herself is a Vietnam Era Veteran, and Supervisor Elmer Ragen, president of Oconto County United Veterans Council, presented commemorative coins to the supervisors who are Vietnam Combat and Vietnam Era Veterans: Jerry Beekman, Paul Bednarik, Wayne Leiterman, and Ron Korzeniewski and welcomed them home. Ragen thanked and recognized all county board veterans for their service. In addition to the Vietnam Combat and Era Veterans, Bill Grady, Bob Reinhart, Ken Linzmeyer, David Christianson, and Tom Gryboski were recognized for service to their country. A round of applause followed the recognitions.

Board Chair Lee Rymer complimented Hoppe for doing a fine job on a display in the courthouse.

Ragen asked all Vietnam veterans from Oconto County to contact him or Hoppe. He said they are trying to get the Vietnam service medals out, and the Vietnam veterans would be honored at the next Council meeting.

After brief and enthusiastic discussion led by Sheriff Mike Jansen, the board approved an agreement for services of the Town of Brazeau Dive Team. Cost of the service will be $5,000 a year, and is already in the 2014 budget. The Town of Brazeau approved the agreement at their meeting on Monday, Nov. 11.

“This results from a contact by the Town of Brazeau Dive Team looking for assistance to keep it up and running,” Jansen told the board. He said as Sheriff, he is responsible for water recoveries in the county, and right now, no member of his department is a dive team member, although one member of the jail staff is.

“They are an asset to anything they work with,” Jansen said of the dive team. He has called on them many times in the past for help, and they never charged, he said. In the last incident for which they needed divers they called on the City of Green Bay, and paid over $3,000 for a day and a half of work after someone discovered bones at the bottom of a lake that at first were thought to be human.

Marinette County also has a small dive team, Jansen said, but if they charge mileage and time and a half for their members, the cost adds up. Also, any time they are working on water rescue, time is vital and the Brazeau team will be closest to most sites in Oconto County.

Jansen said in the past he sometimes hesitated to use the Brazeau Dive Team because of chain of evidence rules, but once they are contracted with the county, “If I call them, they’re my people,” and the chain of evidence is not at risk.

“We ought to take our hats off to these guys,” declared Supervisor Bill Grady. “They’re well worth the $5,000!” He noted the Dive Team also spends many Saturdays and Sundays practicing ice rescue training.

Communications included a letter from Stephen J. Albers, addressed to Mr. Louis Winkler and the Oconto County Forest, Parks & Recreation Committee members thanking the committee, Robert Skalitzky, Forest & Parks Administrator, and Pat Virtues, Zoning Administrator, for their assistance in negotiating a land exchange agreement with the county. Albers said he will be fulfilling a dream by building a small log cabin on the site he acquired in the trade.

In a letter dated Nov. 5, Lisa Sherman, Health & Human Services Business Manager, thanked Public Property Committee members, Maintenance Engineer Kevin Noack and the Maintenance Department for support in completing the Office Remodeling project. referred to the Public Property Committee.

In other business:

*The board accepted the bid of Peterson Ford to supply vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department. The package includes four police interceptor 4-door sedans with all wheel drive to be used as police pursuit vehicles, for $23,875 each, for a total of $95,500, and two police interceptor all wheel drive utility vehicles for $25,770 each, for a total of $51,540.

*Renewal of an agreement with Correctional Health Care Companies (VCH) for $83,435.52 a year to provide health care for inmates at the county jail was approved. It was noted CHC provides similar services for Forest, Marinette and Shawano counties. Jansen said he has been very happy with CHC services, and just wish they could afford more hours. Their doctor and a nurse come to the jail on a regular basis, and the doctor is available on call 24/7, “which is much better than having to take a prisoner to the Emergency Room.” CHC also assumes responsibility for health care liability. Every inmate gets a medical screening, and in addition if there is a medical condition they can ask a nurse to evaluate it.

*By a vote to 25 to 6 the board approved an exception to the regular vacation schedule giving two weeks’ vacation to Mark Olcott, who is to start work as Maintenance/Safety Coordinator at New View Industries on Jan. 1. Hamann explained county policies allow this if approved by the parent committee. Stellmacher declared he will be an excellent employee, and noted allowing him extra vacation time costs the county nothing. “His work will all be waiting for him when he gets back.” Stellmacher commented in view of the time required to earn more than one week’s vacation they should take a look at the whole vacation schedule. Supervisors David Christianson, Grady, Guy Gooding, Buzz Kamke, Ken Linzmeyer and Sekela were opposed.

*With Stellmacher casting the sole opposing vote, the board approved an agreement to pay increased insurance premiums for county employees who are members of the Teamster’s Union. Hamann explained the county is tied to the contract for another year, and with 250 employees the fine under ObamaCare regulations could be as much as half a million dollars. He said 32 of the employees who are members of the Teamsters Union get their insurance through Central States. Currently the county contributes $972 per employee, and the new rate will be $1,100 a month, for an added cost of $49,152 for 2014 in order to comply with the Affordable Health Care Act. Hamann said next year they will move the Teamster employees to another insurance plan that is more affordable.

Stellmacher urged insisting that in the case of married employees, the county should insist that they look at the possibility of insurance through the spouse’s employer. Hamann said the committee did discuss that in the past, and it is on the agenda for their next meeting. “This is a one year fix to get us through until we can change plans,” he said repeating that approving the resolution will allow the county to comply with the Affordable health Care plan and avoid the possibility of fines.

*Stellmacher presented an update on Oconto County Economic Development Corporation activities. She said they have 15 more ads for the Discovery Guide than last year.

*The board approved Rymer’s appointments of Terry Brazeau for a six year term on Bay Lake Regional Planning Commission; Francis Wranosky, Oconto Falls, to fulfill the unexpired term of Lawrence Buhrandt on the Oconto County Recycling Advisory Committee; and reappointment of Vicki Gooding of Sobieski and Robert Ray and Al Sleeter of Suring to three year terms on the Oconto County Library Services Board.


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