Osceola County extends workshare program

Employees to remain on furlough

The Osceola County Board of Commissioners approved extending the employee furloughs until Aug. 4. They will, by then, know if the $600 federal stipend has been extended for unemployed workers. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

The Osceola County Board of Commissioners approved extending the employee furloughs until Aug. 4. They will, by then, know if the $600 federal stipend has been extended for unemployed workers. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

REED CITY -- Osceola County employees who volunteered to participate in the workshare program will remain on furlough until Aug. 4 when the Osceola County Board of Commissioners will meet again to take up the issue.

Commissioner Timothy Michell, who previously proposed they extend the workshare program until the end of the year in order to save the county money, told the board they needed to think about whether or not extend the furlough program, because they would not be meeting again until after the stipend period ended.

"The workshare program actually runs to the end of December," Michell said. "The $600 would end July 31, but the unemployment portion the state would pay goes until the end of December. The board hasn't taken any action on whether to end the program or continue the furloughs and I think we need to make a decision."

"Are you going to keep the employees on furlough knowing they may not get that stipend?" County Clerk Karen Bluhm asked.

Commission chairman Jack Nehmer said it was decided when they started the program to maintain the July 31 end date, which was the day the federal stipend of $600 per week was expected to end.

"We said at the time, that we would extend it until the end of the year, or until the stipend ended," Nehmer said. "So, if they extended the stipend, then we would extend the program as well."

Michell suggested that even if the stipend ended, if they continue the furlough until the end of the year, it could save the county money.

"It is my understanding that the dollars we have to pay for unemployment is still only going to be around $72 out of $250 average that a worker makes, so you are still having a 60 percent savings," Michell said.

County coordinator Susan VanderPol said through the workshare program, the state was supposed to be picking up the unemployment because they are getting funding from the federal government to cover it, but as of right now they are being billed for it, although that is being appealed.

Commissioner Mark Gregory said the county would not save much money if they have to fund the liability for the unemployment, and that they should end the program if they are not going to get the federal subsidy.

"If we stay in the program until our next board meeting, that could potentially put some employees at two weeks without the federal subsidy, but by then we should know what the federal government is going to do," Gregory said. "At that point we can decide whether to continue the furloughs or drop out of the program.

Commissioners voted to extend the program through the Aug. 4 meeting date, to wait and see if the federal government extended the $600 stipend.

In a related matter, the board voted to approve to pay three county treasurer's office staff members the equivalent of two days unemployment plus $600 per week for two weeks for a correction of their enrollment in the workshare program.

The total amount of $4,014, plus taxes and benefits, will be paid out of the delinquent tax fund.

Osceola County Treasurer Lori Leudeman told the board that when the program was set up she had requested that all three of her staff members be enrolled in the program, but for some reason they were not.

"They were not enrolled in the first two weeks of the program, so they did not get any benefits," Leudeman said. "I would ask that the county pay those benefits back to those staff members."

Gregory asked if the employees would accept their regular pay for those days instead of the $600 stipend plus the unemployment amount.

"I supported them being in the program and we did everything we were supposed to do," Leudeman said. "Other people made $1200 for those two days, and these employees didn't get anything. If they got their regular pay, that would make up for some if it, but not a lot."

Commissioner Larry Emig said the employees should not be punished for something that was an error, and that they should be compensated.

Michell objected to the county paying for employees that did not work.

"This is money that the federal government is giving in addition to what people would normally get (on unemployment), and you are asking the county to pay this surplus to people who did not work," Michell said. "There are people in the county that pay taxes and pay county workers that did not get the opportunity to get that stipend, or go on furlough, because of the nature of their job, and now you want the county to pay for something that was an honest mistake. No one was penalized, they just weren't rewarded. I am totally against it."

A motion to pay the requested amount out of the delinquent tax fund was approved by a vote of 5-1, with Michell voting against.

The board will meet virtually at 9:30 a.m., Aug. 4.

For information on how to access the virtual meeting, visit osceola-county.org, or call 231-832-3261.