Presiding Commissioner votes no amidst allegations he missed budget meetings; meanwhile County Clerk says she will cut office hours if her budget request is not met

The 2014 Platte County government season has started with one officeholder cutting business hours due to a budget cut and one commissioner voting against that new budget. 

The County Commission held its first meeting of the year Monday, beginning with a public hearing on the new $58.9 million budget, which was approved by a two-to-one vote, with Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown voting no. County Clerk Joan Harms asked Commissioners for “consideration” in regards to its decision to cut $7,000 from her staff’s salaries in 2014. She said after an analysis of her staff salary costs since she took office in 2010, that allocation has steadily decreased — sometimes due to her own efforts at cost reduction. However, this budget cycle, she requested $57,114 and received only $50,000. She pulled information from three random offices for comparison, citing their lesser cuts or in some cases increases. “This makes it very difficult to run my office now,” Harms said. Brown asked if she was trying to compare the kind of work done in her office to the work done in other offices, noting it was difficult to make comparisons. Harms said while she wasn’t really trying to compare based on job duties that nonetheless the cuts forced her to change her office’s hours of business. For the foreseeable future, the County Clerk’s office will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. “But the County’s hours of business are from 8-5,” said 2nd District Commissioner Duane Soper. Brown asked if Harms had checked with state statute if she was able to make such a change to her office hours. She said she had. “What happens when there is a bid closing at 5 p.m?” Brown said. “What happens when there are licensing deadlines — business licenses, liquor licenses? Have you notified all these people who have an understanding that you will be open?” Harms said she herself would be present to accept bids at deadline, when possible, and that otherwise she had no formal understanding with anyone on her office hours and would work to get out the message to the public that her office would only be open from 9-4. Soper said last week the bids closed on the County’s insurance contract and no one was available in the Clerk’s office to receive the document, which had to be accepted by an employee in another office. Harms said she was aware of that, thanked the other department for accepting the bid, and said whether a bid was received at 4 p.m. or an hour later it would sit in the inbox until the next morning just the same. “So you’re saying without this consideration from us you will close for two hours a day,” Brown said. “Yes, because my staff is at only three-quarters pay,” Harms said. First District Commissioner Beverlee Roper double-checked that Harms was certain she could legally make such a change. “You have it in writing?” she asked. “I don’t need it in writing,” Harms said. Brown pointed out there had been a lot of budget cuts over the last several years and yet everyone else was still open during regular office hours. He suggested managing the staff’s hours to overlap to cover all regular hours. Soper said he personally had suggested her office be given $56,414 and Roper suggested the Commission could consider a middle ground of restoring $3,750 to the budget. Harms said she had discussed possibilities with her employees and was unable to stagger schedules. To this, Brown asked if Harms allowed her employees to dictate the office’s hours. “When these people were hired to work an 8-5 shift and things change you do have to give them some consideration,” she said. “These employees deserve to be given a fair and equitable salary. I don’t know why this cut was made.” Harms went on to say the salary cut doesn’t make much of a dent in the County’s deficit and that the reduction devalues the work of the Clerk’s office.