Small counties are often training grounds for people who want to learn the ropes of a profession, but when rollovers occur, the impact can be serious.
In the last few weeks, Ravalli County has lost two planners, two deputy county attorneys, a sheriff’s deputy and a legal secretary, all to jobs that offer more in wages and benefits.
County financial officer Don Klepper said he understands the concerns of the department heads. He worked for two months to put an insurance package together for county employees. The eventual plan reflects a $2,000 raise per employee but the benefit is in premiums paid by the county, not in actual buying power to the employees.
“I don’t know what ‘enough’ is,” Klepper said. We are never going to match other counties with higher revenues—Yellowstone, Gallatin, even Missoula. We’re never going to be a county you come to because of the bucks. Service has to be a part of your motivation if you work here.”
Senior planner Bill Armold will leave in mid-August to take a senior planning position with Gallatin County. Armold was offered the Bozeman position the same day he accepted the position with Ravalli County last April. Gallatin County renewed the offer two weeks ago and Armold accepted, calling it a “career opportunity he could not pass up.”
Last winter Lea Jordan, who had worked in the sanitarian’s office, was transferred to planning. Jordan resigned in early June to continue her education and Armold will leave in mid-August.
In an effort to maintain continuity last spring, the county commissioners appointed county sanitarian Jake Kammerer head of a combined Land Services Department that incorporates the planning and sanitarian offices. Kammerer says it is not just a question of salaries. The small staff must help develop a growth policy and cope with a huge volume of work.
Ravalli County Attorney George Corn got hit with three resignations too. Both of the women deputy county attorneys accepted jobs with Missoula County private law firms. One of his legal secretaries also resigned to accept a higher-paying private sector position.
“My secretary can make more cleaning houses than she can as a legal secretary,” Corn said. “We start secretarial staff in my office at less than $8 an hour.”
A deputy sheriff is leaving the county sheriff’s department to go to work for the county road department as a mechanic, with a $2 increase in salary. Both the deputies and road department workers are unionized, but the road department has the higher pay scale.
“There’s always going to be a certain amount of turnover in these jobs,” Klepper said. “People come in and serve a period of time and then go. But it hurts when so many do it at once.”