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Committee says review, not just fill, vacant jobs

While the words used initially Monday night were "moratorium" and "freeze," in the end the Pierce County Finance and Personnel Committee voted to take a less drastic course and implement a procedure to evaluate vacant jobs before hiring again.

The county currently has about a dozen jobs open. Some are part-time clerical positions. But the list also includes the Land Conservation Department director's job formerly held by Dave Sanders, the University Extension resource agent job previously held by Ed Hass, a patrol officer job left vacant when Nancy Hove was elected sheriff, three Highway Department positions and three jobs in Public Health.

The intent behind the new process is to avoid budget problems and layoffs such as those that occurred in the Human Services Department at the end of 2006.

"It's not fair to an employee to bring him or her in for a few months and then say, 'There's the door'," said Supervisor Bill Gilles.

Human Services Director Reggie Bicha said a therapist in his department began work in September and was laid off in December when the department was forced to trim expenses.

In the past, vacant jobs have been automatically advertised and filled, said County Board Chairman Paul Barkla. Setting a temporary moratorium wouldn't mean a job wouldn't be filled, but it would give the parent committee and Finance and Personnel time to evaluate staffing, he said.

Parks Superintendent Scott Schoepp argued against a delay in refilling the assistant park superintendent job. He has advertised the opening and the deadline for submitting applications is near.

The year-round position has been in place for 16 years and is needed even more now because park properties have increased, said Schoepp. He said seasonal hiring doesn't attract the same caliber of experienced workers.

"It just slows down the process a little bit," said Barkla. "Is (filling the parks job) so important that two months make that much difference? I think not."

The county needs to start reviewing open jobs to look at position-sharing and other ways to tweak staffing, said Finance and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Kirstin Schilling.

She said this would be a "short-term review" process, but it would play into the 2008 staffing plan.

In 2006, supervisors had to cut $1.3 million from 2007 budget requests; therefore, it would be prudent to put a hiring moratorium in place until the county board gets a better handle on costs, said Gilles.

There's nothing wrong with a short-term moratorium, but because of revenue limits, the county is probably really looking at a long-term moratorium, said Supervisor Mel Pittman.

Committee members discussed a simple wording change in the personnel policy to clarify open positions are not automatically filled.

Supervisor Rich Purdy said then the administrative coordinator could be asked to watch for openings that should be reviewed by committees.

In the end, the Finance and Personnel Committee adopted a motion saying that, for six months, no vacant county jobs will be filled until they are reviewed by the department's parent committee and the Finance and Personnel.

In effect, this places a moratorium on the current process, but not on hiring, said Purdy.