Osceola County to end workshare program

Furloughed employees will return full time

The Osceola County Board of Commissioners voted to terminate the county's participation in the workshare program at its virtual meeting Aug. 4. (Herald Review file photo)

The Osceola County Board of Commissioners voted to terminate the county's participation in the workshare program at its virtual meeting Aug. 4. (Herald Review file photo)

REED CITY -- The Osceola county Board of Commissioners voted to end the employee workshare program and bring furloughed employees back at its meeting on Aug. 4.

The BOC unanimously approved a motion to terminate the workshare groups and end the program effective Aug. 7.

County Coordinator Susan VanderPol told the BOC that there is no longer a federal stipend associated with the furlough program, and the cost for the unemployment benefits for furloughed workers would now fall to the county.

"The district court groups terminated at the end of July, but the others are eligible to go until the end of December," Vander Pol said. "If you keep employees in the furlough program, that means they will be losing money because for the two days in the pay period that they are furloughed they are only getting unemployment."

"The problem we are running into is people trying to get vacation time in and being furloughed, and still trying to get the work done," she continued. "It is starting to impact services. COA has already requested that the board terminate their group because of the workload and the need to provide services."

VanderPol added that the board can discontinue participation now, and if at some point in the future the federal government implements another program that the board thinks would be beneficial to the county, they could re-enroll.

The BOC approved a motion to participate in the work share program at its meeting June 2. Participation in the program was expected to save the county $35,000 to $45,000.

During the meeting, the BOC also approved a motion to extend the current local state of emergency until Sept. 1.

Osceola County Emergency manager Mark Watkins told the board they are going into a critical month for response and recovery, especially with schools getting ready to open.

"We are getting a lot of requests for support in the role of planning for safe reopening, or safe operations," Watkins said. "With everything going on, especially with the school openings, I am recommending the state of emergency be extended."

The state has provided a template for schools to follow with regard to opening, he said, but there are a lot of steps involved.

"We will be reviewing all the critical categories in each plan to make sure the proper capabilities are in place (with regard to safety)," he said. "All the Osceola County schools are in line to open on their scheduled dates, however, I have not received their plans for review as yet."

Watkins said the schools are scrambling to get the plans in place and are requesting support from emergency management for securing PPE equipment and cleaning supplies, as well as advice on proper safety protocols to be put into place.

"Some districts have a bit more of a challenge with opening because they have schools in different phases, so we are standing by to hep them in any way we can, if they request it," he said.

In other business, the BOC approved a motion to amend the vacation policy waiver that was approved at a previous board meeting.

The previous motion was to waive the vacation policy, "no payment for vacation not taken" during the stay home stay safe period, which expired July 1, and allow employees to use the vacation time until their next anniversary date.

County Clerk Karen Bluhm told the board that there was a conflict with the motion and the personnel policy regarding public safety.

"The personnel policy states that for unused vacation the employee will be paid 100 percent of their current rate of pay if unable to be used due to employee demand," Bluhm said. "The motion passed is allowing employees to take their vacation after their anniversary date because of COVID-19. I am asking for clarification of the motion to actually exclude public safety, because we can't roll 170 hours of vacation over into the next year's budget."

The board agreed to amend the motion to exclude public safety employees, who will now follow the current personnel policy, which allows them to be paid for vacation time denied due to work demands.

During the meeting, the BOC also approved the following motions:

• To accept the health care proposal from 44North and continue with them for health services;

• To approve submitting the Letter of Intent to apply for the FY2021 County Veteran Service Fund Grant;

• To approve submitting the Letter of Intent to apply for the CDBG Program Grant to assist with COVID 19;

• To accept the C.O.A. CARES Grant funding for $5,000 for the Nutritional Program (Meals) and $6,500 for Home Services through AAAWM and approve the purchases as presented;

• To approve the Medical Transportation Agreement with Spectrum Health; and

• To approve the USDA Grant Application for Ambulance Remount.