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MEEKER | The three-member Meeker Cemetery District board met Thursday, Feb. 25 to discuss potential changes and alterations to the district’s employment structure in a work session.
The district has gone through several personnel shake-ups in the past five years, with former employees stating in public meetings they were forced out of their jobs due to personal conflicts with board members.
This meeting, listed as a “workshop” in which no decisions could be made but discussion could be had, was open to the public per CRS 24-6-402(2)(b), which states local public bodies must open meetings of a quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action may be taken.
Board members Joe Conrado, Melinda Parker and interim board member Jan Oldland attended, as well as Grounds Manager Jason Blaisdell, who was hired last fall. Office Manager Vanessa Trout attended the latter half of the meeting.
The board opened the discussion by reviewing a draft job description for seasonal cemetery grounds laborers. The purpose of the discussion, according to Conrado, was to create a solid salary schedule and job descriptions so the board wouldn’t have to start from the scratch with each new hire.
Parker stated she would like the starting wage for the positions to be lower, $12 per hour instead of $14 per hour. Oldland stated she thought the wage as listed was fair.
The board also discussed potential dollar wage increases for any seasonal employees who returned from the prior year. According to Blaisdell, this cost would be offset by not having to train new people.
Raises for other positions were briefly discussed, as well. Parker expressed concern about the projected decrease for the district’s mill levy. “We can’t guarantee people more raises when we don’t know what we’re going to have.”
The board also discussed adding daily trash pick up to the description (cemetery littering has been an issue) and the potential need for a driver’s license.
Conrado stated he’d like to see a clause about “at-will” employment be added to every job description, not just the seasonal grounds laborer. The clause states, “this position is ‘at will’, which means the district may terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, subject only to the requirements of Federal and State law. Similarly, the employee may terminate the employment relationship without notice at any time for any reason.”
Conrado also requested position summaries and desired qualifications to be added to the manager job descriptions.
Before moving to the next job description the board discussed cross training of employees. “We’ve always talked about cross-training these two people (the managers),” Conrado said. Parker said she thought they had already asked for that to be started, and Blaisdell responded it had been. “It’s not something we require but it’s a desirable trait. I thought it would be good to put that on both of them (the job descriptions),” Conrado said.
“If one of them’s gone, or say Jason, he’s here more, then he should know everything about the office,” Parker replied.
“I think the same way with Vanessa. She goes out and helps them, she’s always jumped in and done that anyway,” Conrado said, continuing, “it could be that if times get really tough we have one person here and that would be one of these managers that does both jobs.”
The board discussed a driver’s license requirement for both managers, emergency availability on nights and weekends and listing pay dependent on experience instead of a starting salary on both job descriptions. Other desired qualifications would include being a self starter, being disciplined, being a good team worker and being conscientious.
No other major changes were discussed for the grounds manager position, which lists 40 hours/week for April through October and 32 hours per week November through March. The position’s primary duties include maintaining the lawn, grounds, graves, memorial areas, shops and equipment, sprinkler systems, trash removal, and working with the office manager, according to the draft job description.
The position is eligible for PERA retirement benefits and a health insurance package, as well.
The 2021 district budget lists the salary for this position at $59,000 per year.
The draft of the office manager position lists primary duties as “being responsible for the overall administrative function of the cemetery.” It includes financial duties such bookkeeping, payroll and associated reports, preparation of the annual budget and the annual audit. Cemetery duties include all record-keeping, arrangement of funeral services and graveside services and the associated items that entails. The employee is also expected to clean the office, be a notary public, respond to all public queries, and manage the board’s agendas, member requests, and bylaws. The job description currently lists 21 hours weekly for the office manager job, along with health insurance.
The 2021 district budget lists the salary for this position at $20,000 per year.
For the office manager position, Parker questioned the health insurance benefit. “I cannot find anybody else that has a part-time employee that offers full-time insurance.”
Conrado stated the county does. According to RBC’s Lori Zentmeyer, the county’s benefit package kicks in at 24 hours and is prorated up to 30 hours, when employees become eligible for full benefits.
“I’m just saying we’re a district. I can’t find another district that pays full time benefits, I mean every benefit for a part time employee,” Parker said. She also addressed the hours. “I think that’s probably more hours than we need up here. I don’t know another cemetery this size that has somebody here almost all the time.”
Oldland stated she would also be for cutting the hours of the position.
Conrado pointed out that cutting hours would also cut the benefits package. “Myself, I don’t like cutting hours and benefits. We’ve got the money and I think looking at these job descriptions, they’re responsible for a lot. I don’t know if we can ask a part time person to do that,” he said. The position and benefits were included in this year’s district budget.
In the 2021 budget, health insurance for both employees is listed at around $40,000.
Current office manager Vanessa Trout arrived during this discussion and was asked by the board about her current duties and what she does now. Parker stated she did not want to go over the whole job description. Conrado asked, “before the next meeting (March 11), I want to know if you can do this with a part-time employee … do you need 21 hours or can you justify it?” He also stated he doesn’t know what her job entails.
Trout suggested a job audit, having her log what she’s doing for a month or three months to analyze the job and determine if there was any wasted time.
“I’m not for it. I guess it will come up in the meeting and I’m not trying to sway anyone,” Conrado said.
Parker and Oldland did not express further opinions on the matter.
Positions and associated benefits discussed at this meeting are included in the approved 2021 budget, which lists total operating expenses of $269,541, a slight uptick over the 2020 budget amount of $213,055 primarily due to the hiring of Blaisdell.
Overall, total expenditures have trended downward for the past five years — the 2016 budget listed operating expenses at $590,273.
The board also has more than $2 million in reserves, and has offered a mill levy tax holiday for the past several years, netting taxpayers a savings of $440,000.
The board will vote on any changes at an 8:30 a.m. meeting Monday, March 11.
By CAITLIN WALKER| firstname.lastname@example.org