La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously, if reluctantly, to allow the treasurer’ to upgrade and fill an office position that could cost as much as $12,000 more.
Treasurer Allison Aichele requested to hire an employee with a higher skill level than the current vacancy to handle accounting and reporting responsibilities in her office, which have fallen behind on an increasingly overwhelming workload. Moreover, she said the office has not met some minor statutory obligations.
Salary and benefits for the vacant position, a tax specialist, is $51,000. Upgrading the position to a fiscal analyst will raise the pay, including benefits, to about $66,000, Aichele said in a previous interview. Factoring in the money saved while the position was vacant, the cost to the county this year is a little less than $12,000 from the contingency fund.
That breaks down to a $1,587 salary increase and as much as a $10,134 increase in benefits. The latter could change, depending on the person hired.
“I need to get the transactional work off the desks of the people in my office,” Aichele told commissioners. “That’s part of my role. We can meet those with the assistance of county resources.”
The Treasurer’s Office employs four, including Aichele, who said they’ve processed about 21,200 total transactions since Jan. 1. Though there are online payment options, Aichele said the office continues to process transactions in person and by mail.
Commissioners were disgruntled by the request, which comes at a time when all departments are expected to cut costs and leave vacancies open to soften the fiscal blow of declining property tax revenue in La Plata County.
Commissioners said the county is not in a financial position to absorb additional costs.
“It sounds like we’re reconsidering the treasurer budget again,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said. “We went through the budget process last summer and fall, and this wasn’t a problem.”
Commissioner Brad Blake said he was concerned with the office’s increased spending since 2015, despite promises to increase efficiency and consequently save money, primarily by introducing technology to streamline functions in the office.
“We have to be careful saying efficiencies will save us money, because they haven’t yet,” Blake said. “We’ve been supportive with the training we’ve provided, and we haven’t seen that it’s saved money yet. I do support the treasurer in doing a good job, but I think we need to be very cautious.”
Aichele was elected in 2014, and neither she nor her opponent had experience as a county treasurer. Since she took office, the county spent about $34,000 on training to keep her office up to speed on its responsibilities.
The board adopted a $503,000 budget for the treasurer in 2015, $566,000 in 2016 and $596,000 for 2017.
Commissioners contemplated alternatives to the request, including delaying a decision or temporarily filling the vacancy at no additional cost to help the office catch up and in the meantime, potentially find a permanent employee with skills that don’t require reclassifying the position.
Aichele said a temporary and the transitory periods that accompany turnover cost more money and time. She added that the county’s population has grown while staffing stays the same.
The board ultimately agreed to approve the measure to help get the office on track as quickly as possible.
Aichele will meet Wednesday with the county manager and attorney to identify the office’s obligations, statutory and otherwise, and come up with an action plan.
County Manager Joe Kerby said he will have a better understanding after the meeting of what resources will be required to help the Treasurer’s Office, but urged the board to approve the reclassification.
“This position is not the silver bullet, and I don’t think the board should make the decision thinking it will rectify everything,” Kerby said. “Will it help from an overall workload standpoint? Yes.”