Commissioners discuss non-union contract renewals, pay raises

Published 9:54 am Friday, December 16, 2022

ST. JOSEPH — With just one more county board meeting scheduled for 2022, Berrien County Commissioners handled a number of items including the renewal of contracts and extending pay raises to non-union and appointed officials. 

Mention was also made of a concern raised last week about the county’s purchase of the AEP building and surrounding land in Buchanan. County Commissioner Dave Vollrath said the AEP site is still the county’s first choice as the location of a new radio communications tower in the south county. 

News came last week that Native American artifacts had been found on the 20 acre site. County officials are still hoping to find a place on the site to build the tower. The county’s plan also calls for the county’s Emergency Operations Center to be moved there and for the building to possibly also house Buchanan city offices. 

Relative to the pay raise, commissioners voted to give a three percent pay raise to appointed officials and non-union employees effective Jan. 1, 2023. Other unionized county employees had already received pay raises earlier this year. 

Thursday’s action is a result of concerns raised by county employees after the implementation of a new salary and compensation study earlier this fall. That study compared Berrien County salaries to other counties around the state. 

In other personnel news, Commissioners approved new evaluation processes for the County Administrator and Corporate Counsel. Those two positions are under the direct supervision of the county board. 

The new evaluation process was developed by the county board’s Personnel and Human Services Committee over the last several months. The action taken Thursday incorporates the Annual Performance Evaluation Process into the board’s Bylaws and Rules of Procedures with the process reviewed annually each November. 

PHS Committee Chairman Robert Harrison asked commissioners to review the entire Bylaws document in anticipation of a Committee of the Whole meeting Dec. 22 where it will be discussed. 

As for evaluations, he asked fellow commissioners to return the evaluation forms sent out last week for both County Administrator Brian Dissette and Corporate Counsel Thaddeus Hackworth so the results can be compiled and released. 

Hackworth spoke at Thursday’s meeting on a proposed settlement regarding proceeds from tax forfeiture auctions done 2013-20. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that excess profits from tax foreclosure sales cannot be kept by counties and must be returned to property owners. 

Hackworth said he will be bringing a resolution to the county board next week authorizing the county to enter into a settlement with an area church concerning the excess proceeds from tax foreclosure auctions. The settlement would require the county to pay 80 percent of the excess proceeds from these auctions from 2013-2020. 

He said that moving forward the new state laws adopted after the 2020 Rafaeli decision includes the claims process for people to get those excess profits. He said the settlement should resolve a mass of pending claims against the county. 

In financial news, Finance Committee Chairman Mamie Yarbrough reported that the county’s finances appear to be in good order going into 2023. She said Financial Services Director Doug James reported to her committee that the county’s fund balance will be $24.88 million at the end of the year. 

“We will be at 35 percent which is a very good percentage to be at,” Yarbrough said. “Our goal is to have reserves to be fluid for 90 days. It’s also important to keep our good financial rating.” 

In contract renewals, commissioners renewed the county’s drug lab contract with Andrews University, the tether services contract with B1 Inc., the jail medical services contract with Wellpath, the body camera contract with Axon Enterprise, the south pier lease agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, the hazard waste program agreement with Kalamazoo County and the electronics recycling agreement with Green Earth Electronics.