ESCANABA - The Delta County Board of Commissioners heard concerns of continued understaffing in the prosecuting attorney's office at Tuesday's county board meeting.
Staff from the prosecuting attorney's office addressed the board about the issue following former office manager Carol Kinnart's retirement last year. The board had previously voted not to refill her position, but later approved Kinnart to return to the office two days a week until June 1, 2012, to help relieve the workload.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Philip Strom was one of those who addressed the board on behalf of the prosecuting attorney's office during public comment Tuesday.
"I'd like to believe, based on two things, that the board of commissioners either doesn't fully know what goes on in our office or don't understand, ... or they don't care," said Strom.
He said what led him to believe this was the board's "action and inaction that's been taken since November" regarding the issue, as well as the lack of visits from a majority of board members to the office to see the scope of work that happens there.
Gina LaCarte, a paralegal in the office, said the understaffing issue has not gone away since there are not enough people to get the job done.
She also noted she feels guilty taking vacation days and shifting the workload on to others.
"I am begging each of you to allow Carol Kinnart to return to our office two days a week now," she said. "We so desperately need her. Our backs are breaking."
Others from the office cited increased stress, health problems and low morale of staff as a result of the workload.
Prosecuting Attorney Steve Parks expressed his concerns for the staff's well-being and spoke on the value of those in the office.
"We are a family in the prosecutor's office. We care about each other. We support each other, so I'm here to support them, because they've been supporting me," said Parks. "I feel very privileged and blessed to be surrounded by such a good group of people ... that any private sector employee would love to have."
"We're not asking for a lot," continued Parks. "We're just asking for Carol Kinnart to come back for two days a week."
Commissioner Dave Rivard responded to the request, saying the bottom line is the county just does not have the funds available.
"I guess I don't know what to say," said Rivard. "I guess part of the reason is we've heard this information repeated for about eight to 10 months now. I think we've ... made it pretty clear that it's a financial problem."
Rivard cited one main reason he has not come to their office is because he does not want to disturb what goes on there. He also said he does not want to go there and negotiate with them, since he is only one member of the board.
Commissioner Mary Harrington said the assertion that the board does not care about the prosecuting attorney's office is not true.
"I care a great deal," she said. "I wish I had money to just give everybody what they wanted, but it's not there. One of the reasons I haven't come around either is the same reason Dave hasn't. I think your time needs to be spent doing what you do best."
Commissioner Dave Moyle thanked the office for bringing up their concerns, adding he would see what could be done to get the office some additional funding.
Chairman Tom Elegeert agreed the two parties need to sit down and work out their differences.
The board also approved a resolution regarding expenses from labor disputes during Tuesday's meeting.
The resolution states that due to burdensome unfunded state mandates and financial challenges, the county's general fund cannot afford to "underwrite or subsidize expenses incurred regarding or relating to labor disputes associated with or arising from employees whose compensation is budgeted under other funds, specifically the road patrol fund."
The resolution further states that any future legal and professional fees, "including but not limited to arbitrator's fees, arising from labor disputes by the road patrol" shall be borne by that fund.
"In the last arbitration with the road patrol ... the county, out of the general fund, spent well over $30,000," explained Elegeert. "Because it came out of the general fund, it came out of a fund that was not being funded by the road patrol. It's being funded by the taxpayers, which in turn, can have an impact on the county, its operation, and its employees."
He said he hopes the resolution will take care of these issues in the future.
In other business, the board:
approved entering a three-year contract with Marquette County for equalization services at the annual fee of $125,000. The agreement also includes a 90-day notice of termination, without cause by either party. Delta County first contracted with Marquette County for equalization services last year.