Combining depts. has many hurdles

Published 1:30 pm Saturday, October 23, 2010

As the retired (July 9, 2006) county social service director I find a need to comment on some of the statements in that article about combining county departments, consultants, “temp” services, etc.

Ideas about combining county human service agencies have been brought up numerous times over the years — that’s not new. Nearly 40 years ago, in another part of the state, I was involved with a number of counties that hired a nationally recognized firm to study alternative administrative structures. It led to three of the counties deciding to combine their departments, and I facilitated elimination of my position as director of one of the departments. However, it took considerable time and effort to actually establish an effective organization that remains operating as designed. It is not a simple process.

Combining social services with public health is a more recent idea. A few counties have made some changes to their traditional organization. State statutes and regulations have specific requirements for carrying those functions. They couldn’t simply be shifted to various public health nursing or other positions. There are numerous aspects of these departments’ operations that would need study; such as: combining union and non-union operations, distribution of duties among a variety of positions, some differing personnel policies, changes in operational procedures.

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Eliminating one department head would not necessarily save money as that is just one of several areas of those departments organization that would need study and probable modification, such as: combining union and non-union operations, distribution of duties among a variety of positions, somewhat differing personnel policies, changes in operational procedures including accounting and record keeping. The budgets for these departments that go through the county books is a small portion of their overall financial operation. Reduced oversight could be expensive.

The Freeborn County Human Services Department periodically had access to grant or other limited time funding. This commissioner always voiced objection to obligating any county funds for limited-term positions that could include accrual of vacation/sick leave benefits, county health insurance or possible unemployment compensation among other things. Using a “temp” agency added flexibility in keeping costs within available funding because such positions would not have to be classified through the state required “comparable worth” system.

Darryl Meyer

Albert Lea