Top county staff positions slashed,
 saving $350,000

Five Mesa County director positions have been whittled down to two with a goal of saving approximately $350,000 in salary, benefits and ancillary costs in the county’s 2015 budget.

The county director positions for finance, human resources, information technology, public works and regional services have been eliminated and duties of those directors combined into two new positions: deputy administrator for support and deputy administrator for operations.

Mesa County Director of Public Works Pete Baier was hired Friday to serve as the deputy administrator for operations, and Information Technology Director Frank Whidden was hired to serve as the deputy administrator of support. Their new titles became official Monday.

Whidden and Baier were the only directors impacted by the change who decided to apply for the new positions. Finance Director Marcia Arnhold, Human Resources Director Sandy Perry and Regional Services Director Donna Ross did not apply for the new positions or for any other open jobs in the county and will be leaving the organization after wrapping up some work, according to Mesa County Administrator Tom Fisher.

Criminal Justice Services Director Dennis Berry will take the third and final director position under Fisher — director of the justice services division. Although the position technically entails overseeing criminal justice services and animal services, Mesa County Executive Director of Animal Services Penny McCarty will retain her position under current plans.

Whidden will oversee finance, human resources, purchasing, facilities and fairgrounds departments in addition to IT, while Baier will cover engineering, code enforcement, planning, building, fleet and road and bridge services. Their annual salaries will likely remain at current levels of $124,929 for Baier and $105,000 for Whidden, according to Fisher. Both remain in their current offices but may change locations as needed to cover departments in various buildings.

Baier said taking on code and weed enforcement and environmental health duties will mean extra work but it will give him a chance to look for efficiencies and cross-training across departments. Whidden, who is taking on more new tasks, said his specialty is information technology but has worked alongside a finance department and other divisions in private business before and has and educational background in business and management. He hopes to help the fairgrounds tackle operations from a business perspective and help his new departments work together as a team, starting with a goal of having finance and human resources employees sit together.

Fisher said he chose Whidden and Baier because they have advanced management degrees and because of their experience with the county. Baier and one other county employee applied for the operations job, while Whidden, two other county employees and one outside applicant vied for the support position.

Although what would happen was unclear, Baier and Whidden both said they knew a change was coming in the county at the director level.

“I think that everybody kind of knew something was going to happen, we just didn’t know exactly what,” Baier said. “I think everybody was of the mindset that, for the sustainability of the county and for the county to be able to look at bringing back benefits and a compensation system, we had to do something.”

Fisher said he eliminated director positions and plans to make other changes over the next three years such as elimination of jobs through attrition to save a total of $4.5 million over time. Tax revenue and local economic predictions have necessitated a change in county structure, Fisher said.

The county’s budget includes $3.67 million less in revenue collections for 2014 and has followed a pattern of decline since a peak in 2009. County sales tax hasn’t been above $30 million since 2008 and property values are down, leading to a projected loss of 9.5 percent in property tax collections this year compared to last year.

Next steps will include commissioners considering reduced employee counts in various departments, analyzing how services are offered and employees are trained, and re-examining how employees are compensated.

Mesa County’s search for a new county attorney also took a step forward Monday, with commissioners selecting five candidates out of 19 applicants for the job. Lyle Dechant retired from the position Feb. 14. Candidate names will be released later this week pending notification of the applicants. Interviews will take place April 24-25 and Fisher said a new attorney could begin work as early as late May.


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