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County, AFSCME unit negotiations break down over furlough request

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners rejected a contract proposal from one of two AFSCME bargaining units at the board's regular meeting Tuesday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents county workers in its General and Highway units. Law enforcement employees are represented by Law Enforcement Legal Services.

Negotiations broke down over the county's request that employees take the equivalent of a one-day unpaid furlough, according to Human Resources Director Sue Schultz.

The commissioners asked Schultz to prepare a plan for layoffs if needed.

Workers in the General unit also were seeking a "me too" provision which would provide them a cost of living or benefit increases if non-union employees or elected officials received a wage or benefit increase. The county board rejected that proposal.

The board also chose to not propose a counter offer during Tuesday's meeting.

In other county business:

•Job descriptions, duties and pay will be changing for county employees Scott Busche and Dave Schmidt.

Busch, the county's Information Technologies Director, will also assume the title and duties of Facilities Manager. Schmidt, the former Facilities Manager, will be reassigned as Building Maintenance Technician.

Board members Ron Staples, Phil Gausman and Jeanne Ennen voted for the change. Commissioners Larry Sayre and Paul Watzke voted against it. Watzke unsuccessfully attempted to get the measure tabled, saying he wasn't comfortable with the Personnel Committee's recommendation and wanted more time to discuss the move.

The IT and Facilities Director position will constitute an increase in grade and pay while the technician position will be a decrease in grade and pay. Pay and grades will not change until new job descriptions are approved.

•The board approved a resolution to provide up to $1,000 for a study that could bring all of the county's fire departments under one umbrella.

The Shared Fire Services Grant will be used to study the feasibility of creating a county-wide fire department and consolidating the resources of the Morris, Hancock, Donnelly and Chokio fire departments. The mayors of the four communities sent letters supporting the study, said Sheriff Randy Willis.

The study is expected to cost almost $33,000 and the grant from the State Fire Marshal's Office would provide about $30,000. For the remaining match total, each fire department is contributing $500, and the Stevens County Ambulance Service and Stevens FORWARD! also are expected to both contribute $500. Willis said it's likely the county board would have to contribute only $300 for its part of the grant match.

Willis said it's believed that consolidating the departments would increase the speed and quality of response for county residents.