REED CITY -- Osceola County Commissioners have adopted a plan for reopening the courthouse and other county buildings to the public.

"Employees began returning to their offices on Monday, June 8. The BOC will discuss a timeline for when to fully return to allowing the public into the buildings at their meeting on July 10," County Coordinator Susan Vander Pol said.

According to Vander Pol, the county's Preparedness Plan, approved by the BOC at its meeting May 19, follows the safety requirements laid out in the executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

"The plan requires all employees who are not essential to operations, and whose job duties reasonably allow them to work remotely, to continue to do so," Vander Pol said.

For employees returning to their respective offices, strict safety protocols will be in place. Employees must wear face coverings at all times when in common areas, such as hallways, restrooms and break rooms, and must wear them upon entering the building.

Additional safety measures include wearing gloves, as needed, wiping down and sanitizing work areas and cleaning and sanitizing all common areas routinely.

The BOC previously approved hiring additional cleaning staff to rotate through the common areas of each building several times a day to clean and sanitize.

Employees will be instructed to wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer and wipe down surfaces and equipment routinely.

They are expected to maintain the 6 feet of social distancing whenever possible, as well. If it is not possible, face coverings, shields or separation barriers will be used.

In addition, The BOC voted to approve the county's participation in the state work share program, which will allow the county to furlough workers for a portion of their work hours.

Michigan's Work Share program allows employers to bring employees back from unemployment with reduced hours, while employees collect partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of their lost wages.

Employers can retain their current workforce, while reducing hours and wages by 10%-60%, and are given the flexibility to choose which of their employees are part of a Work Share plan.

"Furloughing a full time employee one day a week is 20% of their work hours," Vander Pol said. "Right now we have approximately 55 positions for possible furloughs. If the board made a motion to furlough individuals one day a week until the end of July, at 55 positions, we would save between $7,500 and $8,000 each week, or $48,000 for the six week period."

Vander Pol told the board that some department heads want their employees to participate, while others feel they can't because of the workload.

"COA, EMS, judges and the Sheriff's department would determine what positions, if any, they want to participate," Vander Pol said. "But even if it was just 44 employees participating, the savings for the county over six weeks would be around $24,000."

BOC member Mark Gregory said he would like to see it implemented for more than just six weeks.

"Until the unemployment gets charged back to the county, there is a real benefit to saving us money by allowing us to furlough that employee one day a week," Gregory said. "We should be looking at the long term time frame, perhaps 26 weeks, as long as we can get out early if we decide to."

"I would rather do the work share furlough program, than have to lay someone off later in the year because the budget can't support the position," he added.

County Clerk Karen Bluhm agreed, saying "The budget is going to be hurting, but I would rather alternate one day off a week for my employees, than for you to have to come back to me in the next budget negotiations and tell me I have to cut another position. That would be devastating, and I would want to avoid that at all costs."

The federal stipend of $600 goes through the end of July, unless there is legislation to extend it.

The program itself can go through December 2020 under the state guidelines and current UIA information, Vander Pol said.

The program duration will be determined by BOC Chairman Jack Nehmer once all the information is gathered, she added.

The BOC will address the issue again at its second meeting in July.