County considering staff furloughs, hour reductions

CENTREVILLE — With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting St. Joseph County both operationally and fiscally, county commissioners are discussing a staffing move that could lead to hour reductions or the furloughing of as many as 45 employees at county offices.

The issue was brought up during Wednesday’s executive committee meeting by County Administrator Teresa Doehring. The county is currently regularly paying all employees through April 30. Doehring said she has been working with leadership staff in the past couple of weeks to review the staffing situation in different departments ahead of a decision to reduce hours or furlough employees.

“The furlough allows us to reduce hours, we can reduce anywhere from one hour a week, all the way down to zero,” Doehring said. “With the furlough, staff are able to continue health insurance, and there’s more of an end date to that temporary leave. Whereas on a layoff, you’re separating employment and continued benefits. The furlough is definitely the best option for staff and our departments.”

In addition, Doehring said, employees would be eligible for unemployment benefits under a furlough situation, supplementing whatever they would receive from the county if they were to continue to work on a part-time basis. Insurance-wise, employees would still be responsible for their portion of the premium they would normally pay.

Doehring gave an initial list of the departments and the number of employees that could be affected by furloughs or hour reductions. The list is not final, however Doehring said she would be having more meeting with department heads in the next week, with a recommendation expected to be brought to the board at the Tuesday, May 5 county commission meeting.

The initial list involved the following departments:

  • Administration and Finance – three positions with potentially reduced hours
  • County Clerk/Register of Deeds – four positions
  • Probate Court – one position
  • Juvenile Court – three positions
  • Building and Grounds – reduced hours for custodial staff
  • Treasurer’s Office – three positions: two with reduced hours, and one part-time position reduced to zero hours
  • Animal Control – Reduced clerical staff hours
  • Sheriff’s Department – four positions where hours could be reduced
  • Commission on Aging – five full-time positions and several part-time positions
  • District Court – five to seven positions where hours could be reduced
  • Parks – Most seasonal staff might not be brought back

As of now, Doehring said, positions at information technology, central dispatch, circuit court, community corrections, drain office, friend of the court, the MSU Extension, veteran’s services and the public defender’s office would not be affected by the proposed furloughs and hour reductions.

The moves, Doehring said, would save the county “roughly” $25,000 a week.

County Prosecutor John McDonough discussed the staffing needs with his department during the meeting, and asked for a special exception. He said there is required new prosecutor training previously scheduled for some in his office that is occurring during the potential furlough period. In addition, McDonough said District Court would have cases “rolling through” starting May 1 and “playing catch-up.”

“I don’t see how I can really cut anybody, because we’re going to be back to normal moving forward,” McDonough said.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Josh Robare said cutbacks would hurt not just the prosecutor’s office, but other departments as well.

“Our office is going to be the lifeblood pumping cases to the other departments,” Robare said. “The more that we’re cut back, the fewer cases that can be authorized and processed and sent to district court so their load’s back up, sent to juvenile court so their load’s back up, getting cases bound over to circuit court … There’s constant work going on, even if the amount of cases we’re receiving might be a little lower.”

Commission Chair Dennis Allen said there may be some tough times for the county, including the commissioners and county departments, moving forward.

“When this is all said and done, we have to figure out how to make up all the lost generated revenues in the budget for this year and going forward,” Allen said. “I’m talking about funding from the state, funding from court cases, funding that’s generated throughout this part of the budget. We all know that’s not going to be there.”

After McDonough commented that his employees’ salaries are part of the budget, Fifth District Commissioner Ken Malone said the 2020 budget “just went out the window.”

“We don’t know that we’re going to have the money to fulfill what we had thought we had for these obligations,” Malone said. “Therefore, we have to take a look at layoffs and furloughs to try to stay afloat until we know where our funding levels will be.”

Doehring said she would talk with McDonough in the next few days to iron out any issues with the prosecutor’s office. She said county departments and county commissioners will have to take a “conservative approach” for the next couple of weeks at least, as the county works out what happens with the governor’s executive order and other long-term implications. She said she is working on letters of understanding with the different unions in the office.

Fourth District Commissioner Dan Czajkowski said these are “unique times” for the county.

“I have the responsibility to not only be responsible to the employees of this county and the functioning of this county, but also to the taxpayers of this county, and I‘ve got to believe that listening to Teresa and what you guys are suggesting right now under these conditions is what we need to look at seriously, and the steps that need to be taken, need to be taken,” Czajkowski said.

A special meeting is set for 3 p.m. Friday to discuss employee wages and the letters of understanding. The community can join in by visiting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82620577932.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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