Hubbard County working to streamline government
BY Sarah smith
Hubbard County continues to get leaner, with fewer people working in government.
But as the county pares down its workforce, it wants to ensure government doesn’t get meaner.
More people are absorbing new responsibilities, and while employees are rolling with the punches so far, commissioners want to make sure their workforce doesn’t burn out or leave.
Such was the case Tuesday when assistant county engineer Jed Nordin walked into the board’s bi-weekly meeting and left as interim solid waste administrator.
And he keeps his old job, while the county determines what it will do to replace Vern Massie, who retired from the solid waste post last month.
But it has been a “big picture” goal for the past two years, in part spurred by Kathy Grell’s election to the board in 2010.
Grell, a businesswoman, was concerned that Hubbard County’s government was getting bloated and could surely shrink down and save some taxpayer money in the long run. Once elected, she got to work trying to make government run like a business.
Over a series of meetings and strategic sessions, the board and department heads, buoyed by “lean thinking” classes M State taught on the county campus, set out to transform government.
Coordinator Debbie Thomas is quick to point out that “no positions have been eliminated,” but each retirement challenges the county to re-think how it delivers services, with increased efficiency as the goal.
Since many taxpayers come to the county office building to conduct transactions regarding their property, county commissioners began thinking about a “one-stop shopping” concept in which all those services relating to deeds, records, property transfers and taxes, could fit behind one counter.
Want a variance? Need a conditional use permit? Stay right where you are.
It just wasn’t good customer service to have taxpayers running all over two floors of the building to get one piece of the puzzle.
With that in mind, commissioners formed what has been dubbed “Team Land,” amalgamating functions from the Environmental Services Office, Assessor and Recorder’s offices into a cohesive unit.
Employees will be cross-trained to handle a variety of property-related services.
Matt Dotta, who worked in the assessor’s office before being elected a county commissioner in 2012, was not replaced as the merger began.
This spring Recorder Nicole Lueth and Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf were placed in control of the new Land Records Department.
The two are charged with making sure the merger works. Neither received a raise.
Downstairs, Katherine Miller was not replaced when she retired from the Auditor/Treasure’s Office.
Although not directly involved in Team Land, the auditor’s office also underwent internal tinkering as payroll functions were consolidated and moved into the Coordinator’s office. Three separate entities had been performing payroll/employee benefit functions. Lorretta Mattson from the Treasurer’s Office assumed those duties and moved into the Coordinator’s office.
Ginger Woodrum will be promoted to Chief Dep. Assessor, a position that has been vacant.
Nordin’s acceptance of the solid waste responsibilities comes with a $25,000 stipend and two caveats.
He will get administrative assistance from existing personnel and the board will hire an on-site foreperson from among the existing staff.
“There’s a tremendous learning curve,” said County Engineer Dave Olsonawski, who oversees both departments.
We can’t go backwards,” Nordin said, as he and Olsonawski explained that the county’s transfer stations are state-of-the-art and the envy of others around the state.
“I’m willing to give this a go until the end of the year,” Nordin told the board, admitting he’s not sure how the transition will go.
“It’s just such an unknown at this point,” he said.
“Give it a good effort and if it doesn’t work, we’ll regroup” for 2014, board chair Cal Johannsen said.
Thompson said to date, the savings is $134,000 in salaries, benefits and contributions to retirement plans.
Changes beyond the building
Many county offices are currently readying for a move this fall that could take up to two years as the county office building undergoes a facelift.
In discovering that the new boardroom will seat only seven, Buitenwerf began looking at the county Planning Commission, which has nine members.
“Nine members are honestly not needed to make a good decision and too large a body can actually detract from an effective meeting and discussion,” he suggested in a memo to the board.
Eliminating two at-large appointments would pare the group down to seven.
In giving the commissioners a few options, he recommended combining the Planning Commission with the Board of Adjustment, a suggestion that was taken under advisement along with changing meeting times to evenings.
In other business, the board discussed reworking the county’s website to include more information.