February 8, 2022
The Miner County Board of Commissioners met in special session on February 8, 2022 in the Miner County Courthouse Commission room. Members present: Alex Protsch, Tom Reisch, Kari Jo Carlson, and Joe Bechen. Absent: Kathy Faber. County employees in attendance were Rebecca Mommaerts, Colleen Arens, Jessica Charles, Tami Severson, Darcy Laible, Jeremy Beyer, Ron Krempges, Eric Smith, Brian Dold, Josh Hahn, Gibi Page, Amie Kidd, Karla Neises, Jen Bolden, Sandi Roy, Cora Schwader and Rob Eggert. Others in attendance were Fedora Fire Chief Adam North, Howard Mayor Don Arens, 4-H Youth Advisor & Howard School Board Member Jill Calmus, Sanborn Co Deputy Sheriff Josh Starzman, Sanborn Co Commissioner Paul Larson, and Sanborn Co Sheriff Thomas Fridley. The flag pledge was recited. An amendment was made to add Kari Jo Carlson’s oath of office to the agenda. Motion by Reisch, seconded by Bechen to approve the agenda, as amended. Motion carried. Kari Jo Carlson took her oath of office and was sworn in as Miner County Commissioner.
Chairman Protsch invited Cora Schwader, Director of Dispatch & 911 Services, forward to give a recap of the wage issues brought up during the February 1st Commissioner meeting. Schwader stated that the dispatchers currently receive an hourly wage with minimal benefits. Some are dissatisfied to the point of terminating their employment if changes are not made. Schwader explained the dispatch department was a stand-alone agency that has different entities contribute to the dispatch fund every year, with Miner County making up the difference (approximately 50%). However, Miner County has sole control of the salaries for the dispatchers. Currently, dispatch employees receive the same hourly pay as a fulltime clerical employee on the same pay level, but the fulltime clerical employees receive full benefits (health, vision, dental and life insurance, along with holiday, vacation and sick pay). The dispatchers made a request for a $2.00/hr wage increase, paid holidays with additional pay for worked holidays, and additional paid time off (PTO) hours. If the dispatch office lost two of their employees, the department would not be able to continue operations.
Protsch asked about the contributions of other entities to the dispatch program. Most saw no increases from 2014 until 2021. Schwader again stated that the contributions have never factored into the salary amounts.
Auditor Susan Connor joined the meeting by telephone to discuss an email she received that may be pertinent to items on the agenda. The email was from Todd Kays, Executive Director of First District Assn of Local Governments regarding ARPA funds that can be used toward county salaries. Auditor Connor forwarded the email for the Commissioners to review. The County did not lose revenue due to COVID so it didn’t qualify with interim rules. The final rule came out that said any county that received less than $10 million can apply for this revenue loss process, and it makes it easier to spend that money. Auditor Connor warned the Commissioners that once salaries are changed, they move forward, but the ARP money is only here until it’s used up.
Protsch questioned the possibility of removing Sanborn County from the Miner County Dispatch. Schwader explained that Miner County could not have a 911 center on its own, as it’s based on population. The 911 calls are almost equal between the two counties. Schwader stated that there used to be paperwork for how the percentages from each entity were decided many years ago, but the records were unfortunately destroyed in the transition between department heads. Protsch called for input from the other entities with representation at the meeting.
Sheriff Thomas Fridley from Sanborn County stated that he would like to keep the program going and continue working together. It would be more expensive and result in dispatchers with less knowledge of the counties to combine with other 911 centers. Sanborn Commissioner Paul Larson stated that he couldn’t speak on behalf of the rest of the board, but he would like to leave the program the way it is, even if it meant an increase in Sanborn County’s contributions. He stated the extra money was worth it to save lives, and he would share his input with the rest of his board. Howard Mayor Don Arens said there will be a City Council meeting on Monday, and he could provide feedback from this meeting to them. Adam North, Fedora Fire Chief, emphasized the importance of keeping the program local, as many times people refer to locations based on who owns the property and not by address. The local dispatchers know where these places are and can therefore dispatch to those locations faster.
Ron Krempges, Highway Superintendent, shared his research on highway wages across the state. For starting wages, if Miner County were to increase hourly wages by $1.00 per hour, it would put Miner County right about at the average starting wage. He requested a dollar increase to all levels. Highway employee Brian Dold spoke on behalf of his department informing the board that the top level in Miner County only earns what an entry level person in Minnehaha would earn. They also have more levels. He questioned why the department heads received more of an increase than the rest of the employees. In addition, he believes the cost-of-living raises in the past few years have not truly kept up with the cost-of-living increases. The highway workers present stated they would like to stay with the guaranteed overtime. They informed the Commissioners that another county went down to 40 hours without any wage adjustments, and they lost most of their crew.
Emergency Manager and Weed Supervisor Kent Terwilliger urged the commissioners to invest in their people. Skilled workers are hard to find, and it’s just as important to put that money into your people as it is to buy updated equipment. Dispatcher Sandra Roy made a complaint about a payroll error that miscalculated her wages from September to December 2021. She stated that error was supposedly fixed on her January payroll, but she still believed it to be incorrect. Deputy Auditor Rebecca Mommaerts will review her January paystub. Sheriff Rob Eggert stated the importance of keeping their dispatchers. The cost would be much greater to combine with other counties for dispatch services, and the service would not be as good, due to the other dispatch centers already having an extensive area to cover.
Protsch asked Paul Larson about Sanborn County’s meeting schedule. Since the two counties have the same meeting schedule, arrangements will be made to try to have a telephone conference call during a meeting. Schwader emphasized how the decision for dispatch was different from other departments, as their situation is immediate. Roy invited the Commissioners to come sit with her during a shift to see what the dispatch office truly does, and stressed that they were trying to hire, but nobody wants the job. Sheriff Fridley thanked the Commissioners for giving everyone a chance to speak.
Carlson made a motion to enter into executive session (SDCL 1-25-2 (1)) at 9:04am, seconded by Reisch and carried. Commissioners invited Deputy Auditor Rebecca Mommaerts in for discussion prior to coming out of executive session. Commissioners came out of executive session at 10:31am.
Bechen made a motion to increase Dispatcher Level 1 by $1.00 per hour, make each consecutive level $0.44 more than the previous level, and grant holiday pay (8 hours) for all dispatchers with additional pay at time-and-a-half for those actually working the holiday. These same benefits will also apply to the permanent part-time employee in the Director of Equalization office. Motion was seconded by Reisch and carried.
Reisch made a motion to increase the levels of all full-time clerical and highway employees by $0.75 per hour, seconded by Bechen. Carlson abstained. Motion carried.
Reisch made a motion to add two additional steps (levels 9 and 10) to all employees on a level scale, with each step being $0.44 higher from the previous level for dispatcher and DOE part-time clerical positions and $0.22 higher from the previous level for full-time clerical and highway positions, seconded by Bechen. Carlson abstained. Motion carried.
Sheriff Eggert asked for clarification on the deputy sheriff positions with regard to raises. The Commissioners stated that Deputy Josh Hahn was just given a $2,000 increase in October, and Deputy Garret Werkmeister has not yet completed his certification. They offered to revisit the deputy sheriff pay in March or April.
Schwader asked for level raises for five of her dispatchers who have put in many years of service and are due to move up. Reisch made a motion to move Deborah Gibson from Level 4 to Level 5, Jennifer Bolden, Stacey McCoy and Joni Jacobson from Level 5 to Level 6, and Randy Schwader from Level 7 to Level 8, retroactively effective at the beginning of the February timesheet (January 23rd). Motion was seconded by Carlson and carried.
Having no further business, the meeting adjourned to February 15th. Dated this 8th day of February, 2022.
Alex Protsch, Chairman
Miner County Board of Commissioners
Attest: Rebecca Mommaerts, Miner County Deputy Auditor