County maintenance changes raise concerns

ESCANABA – The Delta County Board of Commissioners approved a salary increase for the county’s maintenance and housekeeping director and approved creating an assistant maintenance/housekeeping director at Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

In doing so, the board voted 3 to 1 to raise the salary of Steve Carlson, the county’s director of maintenance and housekeeping services, by $14,000 – to $62,000 total; they also approved creating an assistant director of maintenance and housekeeping services position with a starting salary of $48,000.

Chairman Tom Elegeert, Vice Chairwoman Mary Harrington, and Commissioner Ann Jousma Miller voted in favor of the salary increase and new position created, while Commissioner Dave Rivard was opposed. Commissioner Dave Moyle was absent from the meeting.

Both recommendations come from the county’s personnel committee following preliminary discussions with the city of Escanaba and their maintenance supervisory needs at the city hall and library; the potential collaboration between the county and city would comply with a category required for potential state funding through the Michigan Economic Vitality Incentive Program.

The assistant director is required to have a state mechanical and/or plumbing certification, a requirement the current director has, per updated job descriptions.

According to Jousma Miller, the committee was trying to be proactive by creating the assistant position in case there was a situation where Carlson was absent due to a medical leave or vacation.

“We were looking to be proactive for the future and one of the reasons why is … in order to get revenue sharing for the county or any other municipality, we need to form collaborative efforts,” she said, adding that Delta County is trying to be fiscally responsible. “It’s one of our goals and it isn’t easy to make these kinds of decisions, but we are trying to do that in the best interests of the county. Having that collaboration in mind is the reason we looked to an assistant.”

Commenting on potential concerns over a salary increase for the maintenance director, Jousma Miller pointed out the board had approved a salary adjustment for the new undersheriff who started in December.

Harrington echoed Jousma Miller’s insistence on being proactive by approving the salary increase and creating the assistant director position.

“When you look at the going rate for a plumber, it is $75 an hour and when we can have someone in house that does those things, we need to keep that person,” she said. “We have a jail that is crumbling and we don’t have $30-35 million to build a new jail. We need someone in place who can come and work for Steve and keep that building functioning.”

Rivard, however, expressed his opposition to the salary increase and new position, originally asking the board to table any action until the next meeting when Moyle was present.

Rivard noted Carlson has been doing an excellent job in his position, but said a $14,000 salary increase for his job is an “astronomical” amount.

“I’m open to some kind of increase to recognize the fact that he has some other jobs. Is that the going rate? It may be, but I’m still opposed to it at this time,” said Rivard.

He also had concerns with hiring an assistant director, feeling this job was unnecessary and that a qualified plumber from the area could be hired when needed.

“As I expressed earlier in the year, I have concerns of where the finances are going with this county,” said Rivard. “I think we could be in trouble, if not today, it’ll carry over to tomorrow. That’s my opinion, but I’m afraid we’re going to pay the price on this.”

Christine Pepin, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2755, the county’s union that also represented six county housekeeping and maintenance employees laid off in November, addressed the board regarding her opposition to their decision.

“This job is a knee jerk reaction to the board’s poor decision to gut our maintenance and housekeeping department and lay off six of eight employees,” she said on the new job created, noting prior to Carlson, there was no certified plumber on staff and housekeeping and maintenance operated fine.

She also questioned the urgency of creating a new assistant position, suggesting the board wait until Carlson retires and hire a person to take his spot.

“You’ve laid our people off. You’ve cut our jobs. It’s getting old. It’s getting really old and it’s not going to go unnoticed,” said Pepin. “It will be challenged and it’s going to continue to be challenged. It’s time to do the right thing.”

In other business, the board:

– approved a $2,000 salary increase for District Court Magistrate Mark Hager due to his added duties as part of a district court reorganization and due to the logistical process required by eliminating a court reporter position.

– approved a $2,200 well project and well certification at the Delta Animal Shelter that includes a high pressure cleaning of the well, a well inspection, installation of a new pump, and chlorination of the well for safety reasons. Though the Delta Animal Shelter plans to relocate in the near future, the well also services the adjacent Bay de Noc Kennel Club facility.

– approved a memorandum of understanding between Delta County-Delta Ag and Michigan Works!/Six County Employment Alliance, a project in the beginning stages that strives to meet the future needs of youth in the area and bring agriculture to the forefront. Watch the Daily Press for an upcoming separate story on the MOU.

– adopted a resolution to rename the company purchasing five acres in the Delta County Renaissance Zone for Upper Hand Brewery to Bell’s Properties, LLC on the purchase agreement and deed. The resolution also includes an amendment to reference the party or parties by name who will be authorized to execute the deed and sign the purchase agreement when agreed upon by both parties.

– approved a Friend of the Court (FOC) request to install a new counter window in the department to protect FOC personnel from the public, not to exceed $650.

– approved an FOC request to install a panic switch button to alert the sheriff’s department of an emergency, not to exceed $200.