Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

County to add sanitarian

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Commissioners approved a request from Environmental Health Department Director John Palacio to advertise for two new Sanitarians. This will result in a total of four full time Sanitarians in the office which also supports an Administrative Assistant position. One of the new hires would be a replacement for the position being left by 11-year veteran Sanitarian Rod Daniel whose resignation is effective March 30.

At present, according to Palacio, the Department employs three Registered Sanitarians (including Daniel) with additional part time help in the groundwater monitoring season. His request was accompanied by graphs and charts showing a “dramatically increasing” work load over the last four years and a steady increase in department revenue over the last seven years.

A pretty stark picture is painted with just a few critical statistics. One of the prime duties of the office is issuing septic permits. In 2011, an office with 5.875 full time employees (FTEs) issued 65 septic permits. Since then the FTEs have decreased from 5.875 to 3 while the number of septic permits being issued annually increased from 65 to 209. Final inspections went from 112 in 2011 to 237 in 2016.

In his appeal to the commissioners, Palacio noted, “The addition of a Registered Sanitarian will increase the Department’s work output to keep pace with the increased workload as well as improve the overall experience of the Ravalli County citizens working with our department.”

He said it would address the potential overload of work in the Department that in recent years has resulted in deadline extensions, inability to schedule convenient meeting times with citizens, Department staff working overtime, and the prolonging of regulatory compliance violations.

“Currently, the Department is coming close to showing marked deterioration in the quality of work and service provided, and could very well do so in the future if staffing pressures are not addressed in accordance with rising workload,” said Palacio. He said that other departments would benefit as well, such as the Planning Department, the County Attorney’s Office and the Board of Health, which depend on the Environmental Health staff to some degree or another on many projects.

Commissioner Chris Hoffman said, “It seems like we just had this conversation.”

Palacio answered, saying, “Every budget season.” But this time, Palacio said, it is different. He said now they are losing a Sanitarian with eleven years of experience. He said there was a learning curve involved and any new sanitarian would have to come up to speed. And in this case, the workload indicators were already calling for an additional position.

Hoffman said that explanation made sense to him.

Commissioner Jeff Burrows expressed concerns about the potential impact on the Planning Department which has been using the same employee part time in its office. He suggested that the Environmental Health Department go forward with hiring one Sanitarian to replace the departing one but hold off on hiring an additional one until the commissioners could look into the situation with the Planning Department.

Chilcott said that he thought the request from the Environmental Health Department should be considered on its own merits and that, in his opinion, the data on the workload indicators and the revenue increases justified the additional sanitarian position.

Commissioner Doug Schallenberger said that it seemed like a “realistic” request to him.

The Commissioners approved hiring two new sanitarians on a 4 to 1 vote with Burrows casting the dissenting vote.

Since the position to replace the retiring sanitarian has already been advertised, if two qualifying people apply for the position, they both may be hired.

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