More Budget Talk: Employee Benefits, Dispatch and Consolidation of Staff
The Commissioners had a busy Tuesday morning discussing more budget details during their scheduled work sessions and board meeting.
During the first work session, Budget and Finance Director Janae Stanworth presented several potential options for reducing employee benefit costs in 2021, from asking employees to pay 10-25% of their benefit cost (employees are currently paying $0) to switching to a more basic plan and allowing employees to ‘buy-up’ to more coverage if they choose. Options presented could save the county anywhere from $130,000 to $600,000 depending on the changes made. In addition, Stanworth presented the option of reducing the current retirement match from 6% to 5% or 4%, which could provide a potential overall county savings of $70,000 to $140,000/year. A furlough of one day per month (for 12 months) for all employees is also on the table and would be a potential savings of approximately $300,000 per year. The Budget Department is planning to send a survey to all county employees to get feedback about the above options, asking them to rank preferences. The Commissioners emphasized that it would likely not be ‘one or the other’ offered, but a combination of cuts in order to assist in meeting the targeted overall cut of $2.3M.
The following work session was with representatives from Colorado State Patrol (CSP), a meeting that was originally scheduled in July, to begin collecting information regarding the regional dispatch center located in Moffat County. The CSP representatives answered a collection of approximately thirty questions that were submitted to them ahead of time by the Budget Department, RBC Dispatch Supervisor Mike Cook and the Commissioners. CSP explained that the regional dispatch center in Craig has been in operation since the 1990’s and currently dispatches for twelve agencies including Moffat County Sheriff, Craig Police Department, Dinosaur National Park, US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, among others. The CSP representatives indicated that dispatching for counties and government agencies across the state is fairly common, with five regional dispatch centers across the state providing dispatching for approximately eighty agencies.
“Most agencies choose to use regional dispatch centers because we can provide services for pennies on the dollar (compared to agencies individually dispatching),” stated Jeff Davis, Director of Public Safety Communications for Colorado State Patrol. When asked to give a ballpark figure of a total cost per year, Mr. Davis hesitated to provide a number without due diligence, but estimated it would cost between $40,000 and $80,000 per year (based on the current number of average calls, which is approximately 10,000 per year including RBC Sheriff's Office, the Town of Meeker and Meeker Fire Department). Moffat County Sheriff’s Office paid $69,000 in 2019 for the services. Currently, Rio Blanco County dispatch has a budget of approximately $500,000 per year.
Continued questions and discussion with CSP touched on redundancy, reliability, reverse 911, likelihood of technical issues, how calls were calculated for billing, the future of regional dispatch centers, technology updates, equipment changes and costs, standards of service and of course public safety. CSP confirmed their accreditation (CALEA and APCO) and intense training (including jurisdiction and geography training) that is required of all dispatchers.
Commissioners asked, “Has there been any instance of a death or life threatening injury due to a delay in services occuring at your center?” and the answer by all CSP representatives was “No.”
When asked about public safety and the difference between a local versus regional center, Jeff Davis responded, “There are a lot of steps to take and aspects of a transfer that would need to be addressed. We wouldn’t want to begin providing any services until any and all issues were mitigated.”
Commissioner Rector responded, “That’s a big part of this conversation, we don’t want to jeopardize public safety, it comes down to more than just a dollar figure.” Mr. Davis indicated the timeline of a full transfer would take a minimum of 10 months.
RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola expressed the importance of meeting with CSP to discuss every detail. The CSP representatives as well as the Commissioners agreed on the importance of doing so. Commissioner Rector requested the parties schedule a meeting (or meetings) to continue detailed discussions in an attempt to answer more of the unknowns, “which will take some time and much more thought.” Commissioner Rector requested that the parties involved come back to the board with recommendations.
The last topic of particular interest during the regular BOCC meeting was the agenda item regarding the approval of several job postings. In an effort to consolidate departments and reduce staff numbers, the Commissioners have given the Budget Department as well as the Human Resources Department direction to combine several departments and job duties, which would result in three fewer full-time positions. The postings that were approved were Director of Public Affairs, Emergency Manager, Information Systems Director, Information Systems Network Engineer, Information Systems Technician, and Administrative Specialist. All of the above jobs (minus Emergency Manager) were described as being part of the merging of several departments and include significant changes to the job duties, including cross-training and/or fitting more duties into one position. All current employees affected by the merging departments will be required to reapply for any job they are interested in, and all of the positions will be open to the public as well. The Director of Public Affairs position was described as a condensed department resulting in a combination of “Some Economic Development duties, some Natural Resources duties, as well as some Public Information and Commissioners Coordinator duties. We would be eliminating the Economic Development Department and Natural Resources Department and restructuring into a Public Affairs department that would be one person, with a part-time Administrative Specialist shared among several other departments,” according to Stanworth. The proposed consolidation would be a cost savings in that three full-time positions (Economic Development Coordinator, Economic Development Specialist and Natural Resources Coordinator) would essentially become one with a part-time assistant. The Administrative Specialist position would be shared among GIS/Planning, Building, and the Public Affairs Department. The IT/Communications department would be merged into one department, eliminating one full-time position. This approval gives important information and direction to Stanworth in preparing the proposed 2021 budget, as well as to the current employees (ten total) that are unsure of their future with the county. The new departments and positions would take effect January 1, 2021, if officially approved during the adoption of the 2021 budget in December.
Budget workshops between the Commissioners and individual departments begin on October 19, four days after the proposed 2021 budget is due to be released by the Budget and Finance Department. Visit www.rbc.us for regular updates and schedules.