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Pay stipend, additional hires part of approved DSS plan

After a lengthy discussion, Rowan County commissioners on Monday approved a stop-gap measure to help the Rowan Department of Social Services deal with a significantly increased workload

During the meeting, agency Director Donna Fayko presented a plan that proposed a pay stipend for income maintenance staff; paying overtime to caseworkers and supervisors; hiring former Social Services employees and hiring employees of departments in neighboring counties. The plan was created in response to a new software system, a turnover in staff and lengthy amount of time to get employees fully trained.

Fayko spent about 30 minutes fielding questions from county commissioners. Following a motion from Commissioner Craig Pierce, the board was set to vote on a proposal that would’ve excluded any sort of stipend. When making the case for his motion initially, Pierce compared the workload increase in DSS to what would occur if a similar problem existed in a local fire department. Initially, his motion didn’t include any sort of raise.

“There’s no true compensation for the amount of dedication and hours they work,” Pierce said about Social Services. “I’d love to be able to tell everybody in DSS that everybody is going to get a raise, but the money just isn’t there.”

Commissioner Judy Klusman seconded the motion, which was amended twice after multiple explanations from Social Services Board Chairman Jim Sides, former chairman of the county commission. Sides and Fayko said the county wouldn’t technically have to pay any money for costs associated with the plan. The county may have to pay money up front, but would later be reimbursed through federal funds.

The final motion, approved unanimously, allowed the Department of Social Services to hire any temporary staff it needed, such as employees of neighboring social service departments; pay overtime, as the agency currently only offers compensation time; and paying up to a 5 percent stipend for employees, which will be based on employee productivity.

One of Pierce’s initial arguments against the stipend was what other county departments would think.

“I’ve got 750 county employees, and they’re going to be asking, ‘Where’s my stipend, where’s my overtime, where’s my pay increase?’ ” Pierce said.

He also said the county couldn’t afford to continue paying the stipend. Fayko clarified that federal money to pay for the plan would be continuous — not just for one year — and that the stipend wouldn’t necessarily apply the following year. The plan uses the entirety — more than $500,000 — of a 25 percent increase in Medicaid reimbursement.

Just before the commissioners voted on a twice-amended motion, Sides said the county would incur a costs associated with Social Services’ current problems regardless of whether it approved the plan or not.

“We’re not requesting that this funding be used for the same purpose next year,” Sides said. “It’s a stop-gap measure to solve a problem that we have right now. With 14 brand new employees plus nine new ones coming on board, that’s 23 people that are untrained and if you don’t pay something to keep them here you’re going to pay it in the cost that we’ve identified as retraining.”

As an example of the turnover, the plan cited training time and current numbers of employees who are not fully trained. The turnover problem in turn adds to a lack of productivity, Fayko said. In the previous six months, 20 percent — 15 total — of the agency’s income maintenance caseworker staff left, with seven going to neighboring counties that pay a higher salary for the same work. It takes several months for the new employees to become fully trained, Fayko said.

 

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