Clark County may allow payroll to cut itself

Officials propose to save money by dividing duties among fewer workers

By Marissa Harshman and Erik Hidle

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Clark County commissioners will discuss an opportunity to reduce county administrative costs through job attrition at Tuesday’s board meeting.

On the county’s consent agenda, to be discussed 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver, are two items that, if approved, will remove the positions of deputy county administrator and budget director.

On Wednesday, the commissioners will consider another proposal that would combine administrative positions and eliminate other positions in the public health department.

The two positions to be discussed Tuesday were vacated this month when Glenn Olson, the deputy administrator, and Jim Dickman, the budget director, left the county. Olson retired; Dickman accepted a new job at Pierce County.

The cuts are being suggested by County Administrator Bill Barron, who said last week the changes are being introduced for commissioner discussion as part of the county’s ongoing reconfiguration.

“Reconfiguration” is the county’s practice of finding cost savings through staffing changes. In this case, the county commissioners will consider ending positions through attrition and spreading the job responsibilities to other positions.

“In my opinion as county administrator, these changes make the least impact on the organization as possible; they hopefully maintain the level of service and they live up to what we started on when we began reconfiguration,” Barron said. “The fiscal impact of these changes in this biennium, through the end of 2013-14, is $456,000. The next biennium, 2015-16, is $650,000.”

Barron said a savings of $1.1 million over the coming three and a half years will be critical as commissioners tackle a budget that has been austere in recent years.

Commissioners must still approve the moves, but if accepted, a number of county positions will be shuffled.

Under Barron’s proposal, the deputy administrator’s annual salary of $147,468 comes off the books, and oversight of human resources and the budget office goes to the county administrator. The deputy’s other responsibilities — medical examiner and information technology supervision — will go to General Services Director Mark McCauley.

Barron proposes that McCauley get a bump in pay from $118,056 per year to $130,332 per year, and that a deputy in that department receive a raise from $68,568 per year to $73,872 per year.

The budget director’s salary is $118,080. His duties would be combined with those of the finance manager in a position called budget director.

Finance Manager Bob Stevens is being recommended for that position. His salary would rise from $94,549 per year to $101,832 per year.

The cost of benefits offered to employees will rise slightly as the positions change.

Public Health changes

The Clark County Public Health leadership team is also floating a proposal to combine two administrative positions: public health director and county health officer.

The team also proposes eliminating a vacant coordinator position, and an administrative assistant position that will be vacant after a July 31 retirement.

The leadership team crafted the proposal in response to pending and potential budget cuts, said Marni Storey, interim director of Clark County Public Health. The moves would save the department about $490,000 in salaries and benefits in the current biennium.

“It’s not necessarily that this is ideal, but in this economy, with the budget threats we’re facing, we feel like this is the best thing to propose to reduce our budget and not directly impact program services,” Storey said.

The combined administrator position is a model used by other public health agencies in the state, including those in Snohomish, Seattle and Tacoma, Storey said.

If approved, the new health officer/administrator position would be effective Jan. 1. Combining the positions would save the county about $200,000 this biennium, Storey said.

The county’s public health director position has been vacant since April 1, when former director John Wiesman left the county and became the Washington Secretary of Health. His base pay in 2012 was $133,584.

Dr. Alan Melnick is the county’s health officer. He also serves as the health officer for Cowlitz, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties, which pay a portion of his salary. His base pay was $152,316 in 2012.

The commissioners, serving in their role as the board of health, will consider the proposal during the board of health meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.