Summit County Council focuses on new employee recommendations for 2019 | ParkRecord.com

Summit County Council focuses on new employee recommendations for 2019

As Summit County's population continues to grow, elected officials are considering how to maintain current service levels while supporting their ambitious sustainability and transportation goals.

Summit County Manager Tom Fisher suggested adding several new employees in 2019 as part of his budget recommendation to address staffing challenges that some of the county's departments are facing. The newly created positions would include three employees at the Summit County Sheriff's Office, a transportation planner, an energy analyst and a transit technician.

While most of the Summit County Council appeared to be on board with the manager's proposal, Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong was critical of increasing staff levels in line with the suggested recommendation.

"I want to understand that we have a plan for what those employees are going to do, and I think we always have to be careful of adding new full-time employees," he said. "I think every time we are looking to add new employees, we need to have a thorough discussion about the need and our goals and how that will be furthered by that position."

Recruiting, retaining and training new employees was a commitment elected officials made when the county went through a Truth in Taxation process in 2017. The County Council approved about a 5.5 to 7 percent hike on the average property tax bill as part of the county's 2018 budget.

The County Council and staffers have said the increase was necessary to maintain service levels and the pursuit of the Council's strategic goals, such as environmental stewardship and access to services.

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Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez originally asked for 11 new employees in his budget request to respond to an increase in the volume of calls that are being received. He said call volume has increased an average of 18 percent per year since he became sheriff in 2015.

"The biggest deficit we see is in patrol," he said. "We need people to respond to calls in service to maintain a proactive law enforcement agency. We do not want to become reactive."

Fisher's plan only included two new employees, but Martinez was able to negotiate two more if he agreed to fund one of the additional positions.

"Asking for 11 was just the beginning of the conversation that we need to have," he said. "We need to strategically plan for the future needs of the Sheriff's Office and that needs to be a strategic priority for the Council moving forward in how we come up with the revenue to fund that."

The transportation planning position would work closely with Caroline Rodriguez, the county's regional transportation planning director, to help reduce her workload. It would largely be funded by the transit district. The suggested salary is $62,400, excluding more than $32,000 in benefits. Armstrong was particularly critical of this position.

"I would like to keep this one on the radar," Armstrong said. "This has to be someone who knows what they are doing in this area to actually take the pressure off of Caroline."

Armstrong said the County Council has been cut out of transit and transportation hiring decisions in the past. He added, "If we are controlling this, I want to make sure we get proper experience."

Armstrong suggested hiring consultants to help some of the departments with their workload, citing the fixed fees and lack of benefits associated with those positions.

"We need to think about whether or not it is necessary to add new full-time employees, especially given the long-term impact," he said.

At the same time, Armstrong acknowledged elected officials have set aggressive strategic goals in the areas of transportation and sustainability.

"There is a lot going on throughout Summit County and we need to find the right balance of enabling people to do their jobs while being focused on the future," he said. "We have to get there and that will require bodies of some kind, whether it's from consultants or new employees."

Armstrong anticipates that County Councilors will continue to focus on staffing levels over the next week as they get closer to approving the county's budget for 2019.

The county's fiscal year runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, and the Council plans to finalize the 2019 budget next week. The County Council is scheduled to hold its first public hearing Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Sheldon Richins Building. Another hearing is scheduled on Dec. 12 in Coalville.