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Staffing study released

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

A months-long review of county staffing and budget data was presented at a special session of the Grant County Council Wednesday.

Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates, a Muncie-based human resources consultancy, recommended in the study that Grant County explore outsourcing some duties performed by government employees, consolidating some positions and adopting an attrition policy to leave vacant government positions unfilled, among other recommendations.

The firm was tasked with evaluating the financial situation of the county amidst a tight operating budget for the current fiscal year. The County Commissioners, who funded the study out of their own budget, asked the firm to look for ways the county could reduce spending.

“Our mission was to look at everything, leave nothing unturned,” said Kent Irwin, who presented the firm’s study Wednesday.

The study found overall that staffing levels in Grant County government are equal to, and in some offices lower than, staffing levels in county governments with comparable population and demographics.

Reducing staff without layoffs is possible, Irwin said. The firm recommended seven cost-saving alternatives to layoffs throughout the study: job sharing, early retirement programs, hiring freezes, attrition, restricting overtime, transferring or retraining employees to fill open positions and voluntary furloughs or voluntary reductions in hours.

Irwin focused on the advantages of implementing an attrition policy in the county.

One such program in Howard County, for example, reduced staffing by 23 positions by creating an incentive program for departments to leave vacancies when employees left or retired. 85 percent of the cost savings went to the general fund, and the department got to keep the other 15 percent in its budget, which gives departments motive to leave positions unfilled.

One position the firm suggested eliminating altogether is the county mailroom employee.

Irwin said in Delaware County they’ve arranged for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the mail to a few centralized locations where departments can receive it, and Irwin said County Commissioner Mike Burton had already spoke to USPS about the possibility of arranging that in Grant County.

The firm also recommended outsourcing the janitorial staffing to a contractor instead of hiring government employees for the job.

Among other recommendations, the firm suggested that the county consider consolidating its emergency dispatch services with the City of Marion’s. Irwin said that neighboring counties have one centralized dispatch service for the city and county and that costs could be shared with the city.

In addition, Irwin pointed to the limited use of the youth detention facility in Grant County, which typically houses around 10 juveniles while employing five full time sherriff’s officers. He suggested repurposing the detention facility to house female inmates from the Grant County Jail, a solution that would also alleviate overcrowding at the jail.

The study questioned whether county government should be providing certain services at all. He suggested that some departments, like the health department and veterans affairs, look at whether they are performing more than they are required to by law, perhaps providing things that could be offered instead by, for example, the VA Medical Center in Marion.

The council responded to these and many other recommendations by requesting more time to review the lengthy report and digest its contents.

“There’s nothing definitive here, but a lot of ideas to consider,” said Council President Jim McWhirt.

“You have the perfect storm right now of costs going up while population is declining,” council member Michael Conner said of the situation that’s prompted the study.

The county will continue to wrestle with that perfect storm dilemma at their meeting next week, where County Council will discuss the study’s findings in more detail.