County looks to revamp job descriptions to attract employees

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, June 28, 2018

50 employees have been lost over past 3 years


Freeborn County has reportedly lost about 50 of its 320 employees over the last three years.

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The county is discussing revamping its job descriptions and starting salaries to address the issue, and changes to job descriptions are expected to come before the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners in the next 60 days.

“We have to do better, and we know that,” said Freeborn County Human Resources Director Candace Pesch. “So, how do we do better? The first step is making sure our job descriptions are accurate so that we know what it is people are doing and so we can then get them an accurate comparison to surrounding, similarly situated counties.”

Freeborn County Administrator Thomas Jensen said job descriptions have not changed for about 25 years, causing confusion over what positions entail.

“You can’t expect to do business the same way as you did 25 years ago in any aspect,” he said.

Jensen said a revamping of the hiring process was proposed in 2013 but did not gain traction.

“It’s never been addressed,” he said. “To do it the correct way is not by taking one department here and one department there and cherry-picking that — you do it for one, you do it for all.”

County officials and two commissioners participated in an approximately eight-hour strategic planning session June 8.

“It’s a nice map of where you want to go,” said Pesch of forming a strategic plan. “It’s about identifying those things that we know we need to be successful as we move forward as an organization.”

The county has hired Wayzata-based firm David Drown & Associates for $7,500 to help revamp its job descriptions.

Jensen said the county is “dangerously close” to failing pay equity standards, putting the county’s $1.3 million in county programming aid at risk. He expects some job descriptions to completely change after the review process.

“There (are) inconsistencies across the board,” he said.

Social workers in Mower County are reportedly making starting wages $8 an hour more than in Freeborn County.

“We’re just way behind the 8-ball,” Jensen said. He called the attrition rate in Freeborn County “astronomically high.”

District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan said Tuesday that comparing pay in Freeborn County to Mower County is not appropriate because of the differing economic situations of the two counties.

“We are losing jobs,” he said. “They are gaining jobs. They are growing.”

Jensen said Thursday a comparison of the two counties is necessary because of their close proximity.

“They’re … 15 miles away,” he said. “And if you don’t think a social worker from Albert Lea is going to drive to Mower County for an extra $100 a day, you’re dreaming.”

Pesch and Jensen have noticed a dwindling number of applicants for positions such as truck drivers and other positions. A part-time transportation deputy position reportedly received no applications within two weeks of the job posting.

To sweeten the deal for potential employees, the county has added paid time off to its benefits.

Pesch noted county benefits used to be extensive, adding it was forced to make significant changes to its health benefits when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 due to high premiums.

“We’ve had people turn down jobs here because of the insurance costs,” she said. “So, that’s another piece. Through this process, we’re actually looking at the entire package and how can we incentivize and draw people in.

“What’s important to them?”

Jensen stressed the importance of making data-driven decisions in revamping the county’s hiring process and said promises to employees to raise their pay have not been made because he cannot guarantee they will receive pay increases.

Jensen said the county’s operations have needed revamping for a long time and raised the possibility of the city and county working together in a larger role.

“People kick the can, they kick the can down the road from year to year,” he said. “The can’s gone … you can’t kick it anymore, so there’s very difficult decisions that have to be made. And it’s all this: How do we deliver it? How do we combine city and county services?

“We can’t keep going the way we’re going.”

Though raising starting employee wages could entail tax increases, Jensen said money in other areas could be saved, noting the county has paid more than $500,000 on average over the last few years in attorney’s fees, settlements and in other cases from ineffective employees.

Freeborn County has reportedly had a difficult time recruiting top employees because of its pay scale.

“The amount of money we spend on the back end due to lawsuits, litigation, everything due to poor hires and people who can’t perform their duties, or they perform them and they’re negligent — it’s astronomical,” Jensen said.

Pesch noted though it is important Freeborn County is diligent with taxpayer dollars, it still needs to pay its employees enough to provide quality services.

“There is an image out there that county employees are kind of feeding at the trough,” she said. “That we don’t work hard, that taxpayer dollars are wasted, that we have the really fancy, great benefit plans. And that is no longer the case; that method of thinking is so far outdated.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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