County HR Committee wants to add fewer new DHS jobs

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Oct. 17—EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire County Human Resources Committee approved a budget amendment resolution that would likely lessen the number of new workers hired next year by the county Department of Human Services.

During its meeting Friday, the HR Committee approved by a 3-2 vote a resolution that would halve the number of new DHS employees while putting the remainder on hold. Supervisors Stella Pagonis, Mark Beckfield and Kevin Stelljes supported the amendment, while supervisors Judy Gatlin and Katherine Schneider voted against it. Pagonis authored the resolution, which was also approved Thursday by the county Finance and Budget Committee by a 4-1 vote.

The resolution will be considered by the County Board for final approval during its Nov. 2 budget meeting.

The resolution would create six new positions at DHS in 2022 instead of the 11.83 full-time-equivalent workers proposed in County Administrator Kathryn Schauf's budget recommendation. The resolution allows for the 5.83 FTE positions not included to be reconsidered when DHS has filled its approximately 30 vacant job slots.

"This budget amendment is presented to fill certain needed positions, while putting all other position new hires and staff modifications on pause," Pagonis wrote. "Once these positions are filled and on-boarded, the department and oversight committee should reassess the waiting lists and determine which personnel changes or additional staff are required."

The new positions in Pagonis' resolution are three social workers in the children's long-term care program, one supervisor in the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center, one systems analyst and one youth service worker in the Eau Claire school district.

The resolution from Pagonis would require about $62,000 in county funding in 2022. Schauf's recommendation would require about $190,000 from the county. Pagonis recommended placing $128,000 into an earmarked fund to potentially pay for the rest of the new positions when DHS fills its vacancies. Those 5.83 FTE positions would be reconsidered by next June at the latest.

Pagonis said there appeared to be too much overlap between the department's vacant jobs and some of the new DHS positions in Schauf's recommendation.

"Let's wait until this vacancy list ... is filled, they're up and running, and then let's reassess what all these changes are," Pagonis said Friday.

Schneider voted against the resolution because she believes all of the new positions in Schauf's recommendation are needed. DHS staff supported Schauf's recommendation, which Schneider said is important.

"The people that know it the best are the people that live with it every day," Schneider said. "I think it boils down to some degree to, 'Do you trust the people that are working the job to tell you what they need?' My default position is, 'Yes, I do.'"

Gatlin agreed.

"It comes down to those that work in the department," Gatlin said. "They know what they need and what they don't need."

Schneider said adding more positions could help reduce DHS employee burnout and noted that not filling the positions in the near term could cause community members to require more expensive care in the long run.

"The people and their crises don't go away just because we don't serve them," Schneider said. "To serve the people (requiring DHS services) that are busting through the door, we need as many boots on the ground as possible."

Other supervisors didn't want to immediately add all of the positions in Schauf's recommendation, so they supported Pagonis' proposal. Beckfield said more time is required to determine if some of the new DHS jobs are needed.

Similarly, Schauf's proposal of adding 11.83 new FTEs "just seemed like too much too soon," Stelljes said. "I'm not opposed to any of these (positions), but I really think we should be as deliberate and methodical about this as we can."

Other staffing additions

The committee approved a budget amendment resolution authored by Pagonis creating one certified veteran's service officer benefits specialist. The position would cost about $100,000 per year and be funded by money returned to the county's 2021 general fund. The Finance and Budget Committee approved that proposal 5-0 Thursday.

If approved by the County Board, that new employee would "advise veterans with medical, educational, housing and disability benefits," according to Pagonis' resolution. "Additionally, CVSO specialists engage with family members of deceased veterans to assist in burial arrangements and survivor benefits. The specialists also schedule and assist veterans to access mental health services, medical facilities and housing."

The committee approved adding a part-time fiscal associate to the Sheriff's Office in 2022. The job would have an annual cost of $25,497. The Sheriff's Office expects the position will be fully funded by grants and not require any county spending.

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