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County personnel committee OKs DSS hiring

By By JONATHAN CLAYBORNE
News Editor
A personnel committee formed by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners met on Monday, recommending the hiring of three employees for the Department of Social Services.
Committee chairwoman Carol Cochran and Commissioner Jay McRoy had "no problem" letting DSS Director Jim Harriett hire a social worker and two income-maintenance case workers for the Work First program.
Commissioner David Moore did not attend the meeting.
The Work First positions will draw no county funds, Harriett said. The positions will be "100-percent" funded by the federal government, unless the program costs more than budgeted, he said.
Harriett didn't budget a portion of the funds designated for the program to provide "a cushion" of about $200,000.
"The county has been underspending (on) the Work First program," he said.
The new employees could institute changes in the Work First program to "help more people and hopefully stay behind (clients) enough that they stay off the system," Harriett said. "That's the goal of the program."
The case workers would evaluate applicants for services to verify eligibility.
Despite committee approval, the final OK to hire must come from the full Board of Commissioners. The commissioners would need the vote of a two-thirds majority to "unfreeze" the DSS positions. The full board is scheduled to meet April 1. With the exception of a few positions at the Beaufort County Home, the board voted in December 2002 to freeze all hiring in the county, making periodic votes to unfreeze necessary.
The personnel committee, one of a handful of committees staffed and appointed by the seven commissioners, is empowered to make recommendations to the full board. The committee – consisting of Cochran, McRoy and Moore – normally meets the third Monday of each month.
In January, the committee declined to recommend approval of hiring an adult-care home case manager. Harriett warned the committee that paperwork for state-mandated DSS adult services was out of compliance with state guidelines because of a workload heavier than the then-current employees could handle. The full board supported the committee's decision, opting not to hire the case manager.
On March 5, the full board denied yet another hiring request for a family and children Medicaid supervisor's position. In a Feb. 24 letter to the commissioners, Harriett wrote that, because of the caseload, "it will no longer be possible for the current supervisor to maintain oversight in this program." A vote against filling that position split along party lines, with Republicans McRoy, Cochran, Earl Tetterton and Hood Richardson voting down the request and Democrats Moore, Frank Bonner and Jerry Langley voting for it.
With about 101 employees, DSS is the largest department in the county.
The Work First program is designed to keep families working and off welfare, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In Beaufort County, the program is funded through local and federal sources.
Harriett has budgeted $572,195 in county money for the program for fiscal year 2003-2004. The county's fiscal year begins July 1. The board saved $63,577 by choosing to implement the program under the "electing status" outlined by the state. Electing status basically gives the county more control over the program.
"The legislation (that created Work First) identifies counties as Standard or Electing," the Department of Health and Human Services' Web site says. "Standard counties operate the State's Work First Program while Electing counties have additional flexibility in program design."
On March 5, the full board approved switching to electing status by a 6-1 vote, with Moore voting against the measure.
In other business on Monday, the committee received a report on personnel policies from Susan Hodges, human resources director for the county. Cochran had asked that Hodges address the following budget-related issues:
The county considers as compensatory time all hours that carry over into the next week, Hodges related. An adjusted work week is defined by the county as time taken to compensate for overtime during the same week, she said.
"Everyone tries to get everything done within their work week, the best that we can," she said.
A previous board said there should be no compensatory time, Hodges pointed out.
"If an employee's working overtime, you pay them because time is money," she said.
Some county employees work 37.5 hours per week, while others work 40 hours. Those who work 37.5 hours per week are paid "straight time" if they exceed their allotted hours, but 40-hour-per-week employees who exceed 40 hours get "time-and-a-half," Hodges said.
Law-enforcement officers, who often do shift work, differ in that they don't get paid overtime until they work more than 171 hours during a 28-day period, according to Hodges.
Cost-of-living adjustments require altering the entire pay plan, Hodges said. Cost-of-living increases are approved by the board, while anniversary raises are considered automatic, under a previous board's action. Anniversary increases are given to an employee after he or she has been with the county for three years.
The previous board approved a 5-percent anniversary increase last year at a cost of $202,926. The board also approved a 1.5-percent, across-the-board increase at a cost of $149,960. The raises took effect for this fiscal year, which will end June 30.
Jonathan Clayborne may be reached by telephone at 940-4213 or via e-mail at jonathan@wdnweb.com.