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County considers beefing up drug testing policy for all personnel

Drug and alcohol testing for all Washington County employees is being considered, but buy-in from the county officials will be necessary to make it happen.
“The county commission has no authority to impose policies on officials,” County Attorney John Rambo said during the March 5 meeting of the Legal Services Oversight Committee.
Rambo is beginning the process of updating county personnel policies, and the first meeting with officials was scheduled last week.
“The county’s base personnel policies do not currently have a drug and alcohol testing component,” he said.
Some departments, such as the sheriff’s office and the solid waste and highway departments, already have them in place due to federal requirements. The county school system has a drug-testing policy for bus drivers.
The most common areas for testing are pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, and in the case of an accident or injury. Employees who serve in a safety position, such as operating with a commercial drivers license, and those who carry a firearm also are subject to random testing.
One of Rambo’s goals is to bring the varying personnel policies in line to make them more uniform.
“It’s something we are taking to the officials,” he said. “We want to keep them in the base policy and include a drug and alcohol component.”
The Town of Jonesborough recently decided to beef up its drug testing policy with the addition of a pre-employment test. According to Rambo, the town has the advantage of implementing the changes without agreement from elected officials.
“Under state law, (office holders) have the authority to opt out of the policy,” Rambo said. Even if they do agree, enforcement of the policy for the employees in that department is on an honor basis.
Implementing a countywide drug and alcohol testing policy is good business, according to Mayor Dan Eldridge.
“I was surprised when I came into office that the county isn’t doing it,” he said. “It’s good for the employees and a benefit to the taxpayers by eliminating the county’s exposure to liability.”
Eldridge hopes officials will agree to a policy that allows testing in all four areas. “The insurance carrier has offered a $16,000 discount (if such a program were put in place,)” he said.
With estimated costs of $3,500 for an outside company to administer the testing, Washington County could see a net savings of $12,500.
The question of whether an agreed upon policy would then go to the commission for approval has been posed more than once, but Legal Services Oversight Committee members said state law gives authority and final decisions on personnel policies to county officials.