County approves labor contract with Juvenile Center employees

Published 7:30 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County officials are hoping a new contract with Juvenile Center employees will help them attract people to fill vacancies. 

Berrien County Commissioners approved a new labor contract Thursday with the union representing Juvenile Center employees. Earlier Thursday, commissioners discussed the contract in closed session during the Committee of the Whole meeting. 

The contract approved was between the county on behalf of Family Division Judges and AFSCME Council 25, Local 2757 and will run through Dec. 31, 2025. The union represents Juvenile Center employees and covers 27 positions. 

Trial Court Administrator Carrie Smietanka-Haney said the contract is retroactive to Feb. 1. Positions covered under the contract include youth specialist, cook, food service coordinator and reintegration and family services coordinator. 

“We are very pleased with the pay increases during this contract cycle, which include 10-18% increases per grade (dependent on job classification) in the first year and 2% for years two and three of the contract,” Smietanka-Haney said. “Additional improvements to holiday pay and attendance incentives were also approved.” 

“We hope that the pay increases and additional opportunities outlined will attract applicants to the juvenile center as we continue to progress in our efforts to serve youth and families in Berrien County,” she added. 

She noted that individuals interested in learning about juvenile center vacancies can visit for additional information and application.  

The county has been battling a staff shortage across several departments since the pandemic. 

Berrien County Commissioners also got a history lesson and learned some “fun facts” from Berrien County Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin at their Thursday meeting. 

        Quattrin updated commissioners on what his office has learned about what was once “Lake Baroda” in the central part of the county. “We’ve always heard folklore about Lake Baroda,” he said. “Guess what, we discovered that there was a Lake Baroda, the center of it was smack dab in Baroda where the park is.” 

        He said his office checked the glacial maps of the area and discovered that the maps were correct. He described the soil in the Baroda area as “hydraulic soil” which is organic, rich and very spongy and prime agricultural soil. “For farming, it’s great,” he said. “But for commercial and residential purposes, not so much.” 

        As for what happened to Lake Baroda, he said that more and more drains were placed in that area to create buildable and farmable land. Water from what was Lake Baroda now flows to the Galien River, Hickory Creek and Yellow Creek as well as through the Bridgman and Weko Beach area. 

        “We continue to have drainage problems in that area which is why we researched the history of Lake Baroda,” he told commissioners. “We thought these were fun facts to share.” 

        County Board Chairman McKinley Elliott noted that the Berrien County Historical Association has information about all the inland lakes and streams in the county at their History Center in Berrien Springs. 

        Thursday’s meeting also featured action on a number of items. Commissioners approved the annual grant application for hazardous materials emergency preparedness and amended the sheriff’s department agreement with Countryside Academy. 

        The hazardous materials emergency preparedness information is provided by the Michigan State Police with grants of at least $3,500 available to Local Emergency Planning Committees. 

        The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department’s existing contract with Countryside Academy to provide the school with a School Resource Officer was amended in order for Countryside to get a state grant. The amendment adds language required to get the state grant. 

        Issues expected to come before the county board in coming weeks include a contract for construction management services for the county, the extension of the concession agreement for Silver Beach County Park and resolutions pertaining to the Berrien County Health Department.