Layoffs begin for 13 Cass County employees

Published 8:28 pm Friday, February 17, 2006

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS - Thirteen hourly workers of 43 at the Cass County Road Commission will be laid off Friday afternoon at the end of their shift as the result of a union vote on Thursday.
Joseph Bellina III, engineer-manager, said after a meeting with the union members on Thursday, that they elected to take the layoff. A union representative informed Bellina that if they elected to take a 32-hour work week like administrators chose to do, it would require them to open up their contract.
Bellina said, however, that he didn't think that was the situation. “We think it is a silent contract which means anything can be bargained. So that means 13 layoffs effective Friday afternoon. This will be their last day until they are recalled,” he said.
Bellina said the road commission will continue to operate five days a week, the same as usual. He said should there be a heavy snowstorm or tornado, “We will have to deal with it.”
The union, Teamsters No. 214, had already met and voted before the meeting, Bellina noted. He said he told the union last week that he would meet with them on Feb. 16 to make a decision. “They met anyway,” he said.
Administrators will take a 20 percent cut in salary and work four days.
Bellina said he too would take a pay reduction for a 32-hour work week. He said the money is not recoverable in his contract.
The four-day work week affects 16 management people. The office staff, who are considered administration, will also stagger hours to keep the office open.
Bellina explained that the shortfall should only last four months. He said a variety of cuts occurred at the state level. The state has been decreasing the Motor Transportation funds every month, which amounted to $181,000 overall last year, with a big piece of the cut coming last October. The state transferred Motor Transportation funds to the Secretary of State's office, but made it retroactive for the entire year. This happened across the state to those entities who receive Motor Transportation funds.
The funds amount to $2,500 less per month. Then in 2005 through the winter months, there was a large increase in costs of gasoline, fuel, propane and natural gas, Bellina said. “We are looking 18 months ahead. We did not anticipate fuel prices and what they did. We look ahead for the year where we think we will be, but things came together in a bad way.”
In other business, the road commission is attempting to correct things with the county treasurer regarding a short strip of road in Porter Township that was inadvertently placed in a property owner's name. A new road named Beach Street was constructed to connect Shady Lane to Lake Trail. Bellina explained through some error years ago, the property was split and put under a tax parcel number on the wrong parcel. The property owner didn't pay any taxes on it, and the little piece of 35-foot road was put in the back-tax sale. He said if the owner who bought it at the tax sale would deed it to the road commission, then the problem would go away, but it didn't.
Bellina says now the short strip will go up for sale again in the back-tax sale, according to county Treasurer Linda Irwin. She noted there are $900 in fees and penalties on the property. Bellina said Irwin is trying to correct the problem, but there is no way to solve it in a good way.
The board also reviewed a 2005 nine-month audit that will be made public at a later date.