DSS employee incentives tabled

RAEFORD — The Hoke County Board of Commissioners met Monday, with the key item on the agenda being a potential employee incentive plan for Department of Social Services employees.

After being approved by the Hoke County Board of Health, the board of commissioners approved the bad debt write-off for the Hoke County Health Department on all accounts that had no fiscal activity during the FY 2020-2021, totaling $30,874.22. 

“These accounts have had no activity for one year, from 2020 to 2021, July to June. And since there is no activity, we’re asking for them to be written off,” said Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards. “It is an $8,500 reduction from last year’s cost.”

The board also approved the annual Officials Contract with Ernie Fisher for an amount not to exceed $220,000 for the recruitment, training, assigning, and supervising of officiating services for sports contests operated by the county.

The board then approved the Hoke County Sheriff’s Department’s declaration of surplus to dispose of obsolete or inoperable equipment that is no longer needed by the county and the publishing of a Request for Qualifications for engineering services in relation to the Stream Flow Rehabilitation Program and a request for High-Impact Opioid Abatement Strategies.

The Department of Social Services also made a request to the board for the approval of an Employee Incentive Plan from the lapsed salaries of unfilled positions.

“As you know, all over the world, there’s issues with maintaining employees, and we need your work to help the citizens of Hoke County,” said DSS Administrative Officer Barbara Mena. “As the budget officer, we’ve looked at some lapsed salaries. I’ve also calculated some of the revenues that we would have gotten had we spent those lapsed salaries so that we could award an incentive to those employees that have committed and dedicated their time to DSS by offering them a $700 pre-tax incentive for the first quarter and second quarter of this fiscal year, which with the revenues that we would have gotten and the expenses the county would have had primarily, we would have the funds to cover the first and second quarter, just to reward them.”

According to Mena, the criteria for the bonus include that the recipient must be an employee for the entire quarter and must be an active employee on the first day of the month after a quarter ends. The bonus would be prorated for new employees that start in the middle of a quarter, and new employees on a nine-month probation period would be eligible.

“We want to be at 100% when it comes to our employees working,” said Chairman Allen Thomas Jr. “We’ve reached a point where we have 17 vacancies. That’s the most since I’ve been on the board. It’s to the point where it’s an emergency the same way that when the sheriff came to us, that was an emergency. Of course, this is a difficult thing to have to look at. You have to look at if you’re treating these employees differently or if you are doing what’s needed to make sure the most vulnerable residents are taken care of. The people that walk through the doors at DSS are the most vulnerable people in our county. Our director has said there’s an emergency and we’re just doing this until budget time when we can take a look at the salaries because we have to have workers working there. DSS is one of the departments that if it shuts down, it’s a critical situation for this county.”

However, due to the matter not being heard by the commissioners prior to the meeting and the failure of the DSS board to have disclosed this need for bonus pay to retain employees during budgeting time, and with DSS Director Terry Stanton being absent from the meeting, and therefore unable to answer these questions the board had, the board decided to remove the matter from the agenda in order to dig more into the situation.

The removal seems to be just a temporary setback for the DSS as the commissioners expressed an understanding of the need for DSS to be staffed to support the community.

“I believe that DSS is coming before us and saying that because of these 17 vacancies, we need to act in a way to retain and recruit new DSS workers because we’re going to find ourselves in a problem when we cannot administer the food stamp program, the Medicaid program, the senior services and things like that and I think we’re going to find ourselves in a bind,” said Commissioner Harry Southerland. “I don’t think we want to wait down the road to try to fix it. I think this is a way to temporarily, at least for two quarters, to stop the bleeding in a sense.”

The Hoke County Board of Commissioners will next meet October 17.