County Board creates new unionized position
A split vote by the County Board Tuesday night created a new Teamster’s Union position within the county Treasurer’s office.
The board voted 4-2 to add a “principal exemption auditor” position to the county’s contract with the Teamsters, completing a three-year process to add the part-time position to the county work staff.
Some commissioners were unhappy with the prospect of officially expanding the list of unionized county employees; others said the position has been and will continue paying for itself.
The auditor, who was hired in June 2009, is charged with finding properties that are wrongly claimed as the principal residence of their owners. The difference in property tax bills — some 18 mills — can be substantial. For instance, the property tax on a waterfront property with a taxable value of $200,000 would increase by $3,600 each year upon losing its “homestead” exemption.
State government has offered a “bounty” to local governments that track down and successfully remove the homestead exemption from non-qualifi ed properties, paying 70 percent of the difference into local coffers.
Commissioner Melinda Lautner opposed inserting the position into the union contract, offering alternatives such as hiring two people at reduced hours or contracting with a private company for the work. She was concerned about extending benefits including retirement and health care to the position. Also, the County Board has created a lower tier for retirement that won’t begin for Teamster’s employees at least until the present contract expires on Dec. 31.
The auditor will continue to work 26 hours weekly, with benefits pro-rated.
Commissioner David Marshall said such arguments miss the point.
“This is a position that makes money. And you keep talking about how much it’s costing us ... we don’t have that many positions that make money.”
Commissioner David Shiflett agreed, adding that the Teamsters contract requires that the position become unionized after it’s been filled for six months. “We’re not living up to our contract that we’ve already entered into. This to me is a no-brainer,” said Shiflett.
Lautner was joined by Richard Schmuckal in voting against the agreement. Marshall and Shiflett were joined by James Schaub and County Board chair Tom Van Pelt in approving the change.
The vote will provide a raise of 54 cents per hour to increase monetary compensation for the position to $12.49, representing the hire-in rate for pay grade “Level 02.” The hourly pay rate for the temporary position had not changed in the three years that the position has been filled. After five more years on the job, the auditor would receive $17.01 per hour, Roush explained after the meeting.
Roush has been seeking a resolution to the status of the position since emailing former county administrator Eric Cline for direction on Jan. 6, 2010.
Van Pelt appeared more concerned with how the auditor conducted investigations than the position’s inclusion in the union contract. “Do they have to prove that they have an exemption, or do they have to prove in court that you are wrong?” he asked of county Equalization director Lori Spencer.
“We’re asking a question, and if they answer the question and it meets the satisfactory requirement, that’s fine. But how do you audit without asking questions?,” she replied. The auditor generates leads from a number of sources, including voter registration lists and home towns listed on drivers licenses.
Resort communities are especially vulnerable to Homestead exemption fraud as “summer” homes are only occupied seasonally. Owners are limited to one Homestead exemption.
Return from the position peaked the year after it was filled. In 2008, the county was reimbursed $16,668 for exposing wrongly claimed Homestead exemptions. The reimbursement hit $41,647 in 2009, and slipped to $34,277 in 2010 and $28,614 last year.
The auditor position was budgeted to cost the county $20,736 in the present budget, an amount that will need to be increased with the board’s action.
As part of the contract change, the Teamster’s “union recognizes the fact that this position is funded through the ‘Principal Residence Exception Audit’ fund, and the employer has the right to eliminate or restructure the position.”