Barron County Economic Development Director Dave Armstrong’s hours and pay will be reduced according to a report to the County’s Executive Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Armstrong will remain the director while also starting a 2-year term as representative in the Wisconsin Assembly for the 75th District.

County Administrator Jeff French reported BCEDC is also increasing hours for Armstrong’s assistant. He added, Armstrong will typically be in the office Mondays and Fridays, and in Madison during the middle of the week.

“I’m concerned about the amount of time he’s going to put into these two spots,” said County Board Chair Louie Okey. “But he’s elected and we’re going to work with what we got.”

Meanwhile in the Department of Health & Human Services, a request to up a part-time position to full-time was approved by the Executive Committee.

Director Stacey Frolik said it is an environmental health position that was full-time in the past, but became part-time at the request of the employee in the position.

“Then COVID hit,” said Frolik. “As we went throughout the year, we realized this isn’t a position we can manage part time.”

She said the position wasn’t budgeted for full-time in the 2021 budget, but a surplus in the department’s fund should cover the roughly $45,000 needed to make it full-time.

The third personnel issue discussed Jan. 6 was the county administrator, or rather, a succession plan for French.

Okey said the succession plan would likely designate and train an existing employee to serve as a deputy administer to French.

“It’s kind of like an insurance policy,” said Okey. “It’s going to have to be defined, and I think it’s a work in progress.”

French said he doesn’t intend to leave his post any time soon, and wouldn’t retire for another 8-10 years. But having a backup plan is important should things change or if he becomes unable to perform his duties. For example, sudden health problems could interfere with work.

“You want to limit the power vacuum that would occur,” said French. “There could be power struggles between department heads.”

Supervisor Gary Nelson said, “I think Jeff hit it on the head when he said there could be a power struggle. That would be a nightmare.”

French said that contracting for administration duties is not really an option because contracting firms wouldn’t have anyone with experience in both a full service highway department and a waste to energy plant, both of which Barron County has.

French said he is comfortable with the two employees who have expressed interest in the deputy role thus far.

In other business, the committee rejected an offer from Dunn County to join a health insurance buying co-op.

French said the County has been doing well since moving to a self-funded insurance model, and there are many unknowns and risks in a co-op proposal. He said Dunn County spends about $10 million on health insurance, compared to $4 million for Barron County.

“We would want to have a deep look under the hood before we even take this on,” said French.

Okey said, “The upside would be diversification of risks and decreased costs, but I don’t see either of these things happening.”

Nelson concluded, “I think we say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’”