Weather Forecast


Hubbard County filling vacancies, adding to staff

BY Sarah smith

Hubbard County’s “lean and mean” strategy is catching up with it.

Losing several supervisors and some key people kept board members on their toes Tuesday, filling vacancies and adding staff to make up for years of deficits.

Not replacing staff and combining jobs has saved the county money during hard times, to be sure.

But commissioners scrambled to right the ship Tuesday, hearing from more than one department that things are just not getting done with a bare minimum of staff.

The board began by replacing retiring Auditor-Treasurer Pam Heeren with two people.

Sandy Rittgers will assume the auditor position July 1, when Heeren leaves. But the treasurer’s duties have been spun off to a new position that Lorretta Mattson will assume July 1.

Deputy assessor Ginger Woodrum will assume the assessor’s role July 1 when Bob Hansen retires. The three positions will be temporary until the board finishes budgeting in December and makes final determinations about the jobs.

Theoretically, if the county is running well at that time, the women would be given the jobs permanently, unless a search for permanent replacements is launched.

But all three women are highly qualified and certified for the positions, so commissioners have given little thought about opening the positions up.

Maintenance supervisor Lee Gwiazdon, who retired earlier this spring, will not be replaced until Dec. 1.

The top candidate for the position took his name out of consideration. The second candidate is in the military, so until he is able to start Dec. 1, the county will look to hiring a cleaning service.

At the Land Records Department, co-directors Eric Buitenwerf and Nicole Lueth will give up their director titles July 1 and their $25,000 stipends will end. Each got the bonus to consolidate the office records so when they all move to the new second floor, a smooth transition can take place.

The board congratulated them for the successful amalgamation of the several offices into the Land Records Department. The board said Lueth would resume her duties as county recorder and Buitenwerf would resume being the county’s environmental services officer. A new name will be offered for the newly consolidated department.

And board members authorized the hiring of a new employee for the office, someone that can handle deeds, environmental issues and other work.

The county started the process to hire an assistant jail administrator, a new position, while stalling yet again a decision whether to expand jail capacity from 60 to 80 inmates. The expansion to 80 inmates would entail hiring four full-time correctional officers, something the board is reluctant to commit to.

The position of the assistant jail administrator will go first to a committee that will determine the salary range.

The deadline to sign a Department of Corrections contract to receive 20 more inmates is July 20, which is the day the board meets next, so members pushed the decision off again.

“We don’t have the problem doing it but if we don’t have the inmates, we’d have to lay jail staff off,” said commissioner Cal Johannsen.

The risk of underutilization of jail cells has commissioners stalling the decision.

“We’re never going to figure this out if we don’t do it but we need to track it closely,” Johannsen added, saying that the board has been pushing the sheriff since the facility was built a decade ago to fill it.

Board chair Kathy Grell still expressed reservations, saying there were several points about the plan to expand that she couldn’t clarify.

“We probably can’t gear up and get it done by July 1 anyway,” Johannsen said.

Using ballpark figures, it would cost $240,000 in wages with around 28 percent overtime, at least $80,000 more in medical costs and be risky business.

Grell especially mentioned the overtime costs, which regularly run high, and wondered if hiring new staff would curb the overtime. She was dismayed when Sheriff Cory Aukes said no.

The board also put off Aukes’ request for a second investigator, even with the incentive of state funding to defray local expenses.

But in all the position shifts, the board tentatively agreed to go to a new compensation grid that will re-evaluate all the positions and determine a wage range for each position.

“No employee is gonna lose wages,” County Coordinator Deb Thompson said.

In other business, the board:

n Heard a summarization of child support collections from Social Services Director Daryl Bessler. A statewide performance review was conducted by the Department of Human Services, with a report issues in April.

Using a variety of factors, DHS indicated Hubbard County was one of the lower-ranking counties, but although not asked, Bessler said his department will initiate a corrective action plan.

In short, the state wants the county to close cases where they won’t get the money and spend more time on the cases social workers can collect from. Only five counties in the state are meeting the 80 percent goal established by DHS.

“We don’t want to be in the bottom 10 percent,” Bessler said. “I just don’t want to be there.”

But dropping collections in frustrating cases goes against Bessler’s fiber.

“People have a responsibility to their children,” he said.

The goal is to gain some uniformity across the state in collections.

The department also revealed that income maintenance cases didn’t go down in May as expected, when more people are seasonally employed.

“Health care is a driving factor,” Bessler said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364