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MURPHYSBORO — In the middle of negotiating a new contract with county employees, the Jackson County board voted to approve a new position that could pay out nearly $100,000, and the board knows how that looks.

“It looks bad, and it makes the county board an easy target for criticism,” John Rendleman, the board chairman, said Thursday, adding that it was “unfortunate that two coincided.”

He was referring the a vote during the board’s Sept. 18 meeting that approved the job description for a county administrator that would oversee certain county human resources issues for nonelected county officials as well as ensuring that the edicts of the board are carried out.

JaxCo Board Chairman John Rendleman

Rendleman

This is a position Rendleman said the board has been trying to create for four years. He said until now it has failed every time it was brought to the board. One of those times was also during negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

Currently the county and AFSCME 31 are at odds over a contract — Jeremy Noelle, the AFSCME union representative, said the county walked away from negotiations recently over health care costs. Rendleman said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of bargaining.

Noelle said to the employees he represents, the county needing to raise health care costs while also attempting to bring on a new administrator at the county level didn’t sit well. He said it hasn’t affected bargaining directly. However, it is in their minds. He said it’s “kind of hard to stomach” that the county talks about being cash-strapped while trying to add another position.

Rendleman said that to hire a qualified candidate the county will have to pay.

“It really depends on the experience of the candidate, but you are looking at a salary plus benefits package that’s every bit of $100,000,” he said. That said, Rendleman explained that the cost of the new employee and adjustments to the union contracts are not apples to apples.

“The issues at the bargaining table are different than whether or not that we should have a county administrator,” Rendleman said, adding that “it’s not a-one-to-one correlation.”

Still, he admitted that the county does have limited finances. He said while the county is in the throes of negotiating the AFSCME contract, it is also putting together a budget for the new fiscal year beginning Dec. 1.

This budgeting process is part of the next phase for creating the county administrator position, Rendleman said. He said that the county is not likely to have extra cash in the budget for paying for the administrator, so the board will have to find the money.

He said this would not likely come from new taxes, and Rendleman did not say there would be cuts to make it happen either — though when asked directly about the potential for cuts, he simply said the county would have to find the money in other places.

Rendleman said this funding could also come from identifying new sources of revenue or even from redistributing sales tax revenue (however, not touching the portion designated specifically for the school system).

Again, this discussion comes at a hard time. On Thursday the AFSCME members met to weigh all the options on the table. Can they bring a proposal to the board that will bring them back to the bargaining table? Or, will the AFSCME members, which Noelle said makes up about 40 to 50 county employees, vote to strike?

“Am I confident? No, but I’m optimistic that we will work through those issues,” Rendleman said of the bargaining process.

“I would hope there wouldn’t be a strike, but if the union feels the need to strike, that’s certainly its right.”

Noelle hopes they don’t have to strike, either.

“The end game is strike,” he said. “I know on my end, that’s always the last-ditch effort.”

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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