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Officials act on 2 key policy issues

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GREENFIELD — Part-time county employees cannot work more than 29 hours per week, the Hancock County Commissioners have decided, despite a recent announcement that the rule in the Affordable Care Act that affects their health care benefits has been delayed by the Obama administration.

Commissioners acted on two key employee policies last week. In addition to the rule on part-time hours, the executive branch also decided on a compensatory time policy for all employees so there are no surprises when it comes to paying out comp time that has accrued over months or even years.

The part-time hour policy is something commissioners have been kicking around for several months now because of a federal stipulation in the Affordable Care Act. Under the act, commonly called Obamacare, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide health insurance to employees who work 30 hours per week, or face a penalty.

School officials, local elected officials and businesses have been weighing whether to cut part-time employee hours to avoid providing health insurance. But early this month, the Obama administration announced that portion of the act would be delayed a year.

Because of that, school officials in Hancock County decided to also delay cutting hours of part-time employees. But county commissioners took a different approach last week, saying they would stick with the original plan of allowing part-time employees to work only 29 hours or less.

“A year from now, you’re going to have the same process, so you might as well get geared up toward it now,” said Commissioner Brad Armstrong.

Besides, Auditor Robin Lowder said, the county’s insurance provider suggests they report employee hours to the federal government still, despite the delay.

“Frankly, you never know when they’re going to change the rules; they’ve been changing minute by minute,” Lowder said.

The county has 48 part-time employees, but only about a dozen or so work more than 30 hours a week and will have their hours trimmed.

County commissioners also decided on a policy that they hope will curb unexpected costs when it comes to employee compensatory time.

In January, county elected officials were shocked when a deputy prosecutor required a $23,706 payout for compensatory time and accrued vacation and sick hours.

The majority of the expense came from the deputy working 405 hours of unpaid overtime over two years, totaling more than $15,000. Most employees take time off at a later date in compensation of being paid, and the deputy prosecutor situation was the most extreme officials had seen in recent memory.

Commissioners decided the county auditor’s office should be the central hub of tracking comp time. Each department head will require a log of each employee’s hours, and Lowder said if her office notices an extraordinary amount of compensatory time accumulating, they will take the issue to commissioners to resolve.

“That situation at the prosecutors’ office, we need to prevent that from happening because it’s never happened before,” Lowder said.

Eventually, Armstrong added, employees will probably have to use up their comp within the same two-week pay period that they worked overtime. If an employee worked more than 40 hours in one week, for example, he or she should make up for that the following week.

Currently, each department has its own policy for comp time. But both comp time and the part-time hourly policy will be included in a new county employee handbook.

County officials hired a consultant in late 2011 to help them overhaul employee policies, but a new handbook still hasn’t been approved. Armstrong said an updated book has been reviewed by two committees, but department heads raised questions and concerns over some of the items in the book.

“It’s a zillion little (issues) – death by a thousand paper cuts,” Armstrong said, adding that there were no major concerns with the comp time policy requiring all employees to use up their time within the same pay period.

Next, Armstrong said, the handbook committee will meet with department heads to go over concerns before commissioners give a stamp of approval on the policies.

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