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County mayor hires full-time benefits coordinator

As of Jan. 15, Washington County has a full-time benefits coordinator.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said the need was apparent when he took office in 2011. The last benefits coordinator had retired, and funds for the position were taken out of the budget.
At that time, Eldridge divided the responsibilities between his executive assistant, Sherry Greene, and Michelle Stewart, benefits coordinator for the Highway Department.
“It was my intent to reorganize the department over the next year and fill the position,” he said.
Eldridge included the position in the administrative reorganization he proposed last spring, which addressed several findings from auditors relating to gaps in personnel assigned to human resources and risk management.
“As you recall, it got nowhere with the county commission,” he said of the reorganization proposal.
The need for a benefits coordinator to serve as a centralized contact point for employees needing assistance has been supported for the most part. In July, members of the Cultural, Industrial and Agricultural Committee recommended making the position a top priority.
Having the responsibilities divided among two employees was becoming increasingly cumbersome, according to Eldridge, who said he made the decision to combine all duties under one person more than a year ago.
While he originally thought that person would be County Attorney John Rambo, Eldridge said the immediate legal needs of the county must be Rambo’s priority.
“John will be actively involved as far as compliance and instigating a strategy related to risk,” he said.
The upcoming requirements of the Affordable Care Act added a sense of urgency to his taking action.
“We have not begun to scratch the surface of what it will take for Washington County to comply, and I can’t wait any longer to put the resources in place,” Eldridge said.
After considering candidates within and outside of the county, Eldridge offered the position to Stewart, who moved over to the Mayor’s Office last week.
“I recognized Michelle has been doing several aspects of the job, including handling workman’s compensation claims for all county employees, and she would be the best choice,” he said.
Stewart now reports to the mayor at a salary of $40,000, which Eldridge said is below the median pay for such a position. She is operating from the County Office Building, but will move to the downtown courthouse when the Mayor’s Office staff relocates.
“After looking at it for more than a year, this was the most doable option,” Eldridge said.
The announcement of the new position will be included in the mayor’s monthly report to the county commission.
“I’ve already spoken with several of the commissioners, and everyone reacted positively,” he said.
As an office holder, Eldridge has the sole authority to hire and fire employees in his department, and does not need prior approval from the commission.
The position will be funded from the Highway Department’s budget through the end of the fiscal year, after which the cost will shift to the Mayor’s Office budget.
A draft job description for the benefits coordinator lists the following duties: provides benefit orientation programs; manages employee benefit enrollment; manages employee benefit termination; assists in benefits administration; administers workman’s compensation claims; administers county wellness program; maintains employee benefits records; maintains effective department communication; maintains benefits web page; performs responsive customer service functions; and maintains confidentiality and discretion.
Among the requirements for the role are a bachelor’s degree and three to five years experience in benefits administration.