Odds and ends from City Commission this week: snow plowing, drug testing, health insurance

After a very cold and snowy February, the city public works department may be making some budget adjustments.

During Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon said the department budgeted $90,000 for overtime for snow removal this season.

As of Tuesday, they were $34,000 over that.

Cold weather is freezing some water pipes; Public Works reminds residents of maintenance responsibilities

“The last month has been pretty rough, particularly for public works crews,” Doyon said.

To absorb that additional cost, they’ll curb some projects and look for any savings in other areas, Doyon told commissioners.

Since the city experienced a short, but intense, period of bad weather, Doyon said sand and fuel consumption was lower than normal.

The weather also means the city is “dealing with an unprecendented number of water service line breaks,” Doyon said.

Great Falls isn’t the only community dealing with that and Doyon said the city will likely face flooding and pothole issues this spring and summer.

He encouraged the public to start preparing now for flooding.

Health Insurance

Doyon is attending a Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority meeting on Friday where the group will discuss rate studies and make decisions for health insurance coverage rates.

MMIA is a member-owned and member-driven organization that provides self-funded employee benefit, liability, property, and workers’ compensation coverage to incorporated cities and towns of Montana.

Doyon is a board member and the City of Great Falls currently gets its employee health care insurance plans through MMIA.

Doyon said the city was expecting a 10 percent increase for health insurance. In a previous meeting, he told Commissioners that the city may want to consider other insurance options in the near future.

Housing Authority Director

The city is conducting interviews for the housing director position April 1-2.

Kevin Hager, the former director has retired, and the city has an agreement with the housing authority’s board that requires their approval on a new hire.

Doyon said four candidates will be interviews, one internal and three external.

Labor Negotiations

All of the city’s collective bargaining agreements with local unions are up for negotiation this year.

The city starts with IAFF Local 8, the firefighter union, using the affinity process on April 23.

Labor agreements are part of budget process, city negotiates six contracts that cover bulk of employees

Doyon said they used the affinity process last year and it worked well so are using it again this year.

The city will be in negotiations with the other unions through June 17, Doyon said.

Expanded Drug Testing Policy

The city notified employees on Jan. 17 of a new drug testing policy that would include random drug testing and apply to more employees.

Employees were also notified that there would be a 60-day implementation period and would become effective April 1.

Over the last two years, Doyon said the human resources department has been updating personnel policies and the drug testing policy was last updated in October 2006 and only applied to those whose job required them to possess a CDL or if there was reasonable suspicion of them being under the influence at work.

The city’s overall personnel policy was last updated in May 2016 and addresses the use of drugs and alcohol in the work place but didn’t include random drug testing provisions, he said.

The drug and alcohol policy was outdated and needed revision, Doyon said, “and over the past year, city management has become aware of and increasingly concerned about workplace instances of employee drug and alcohol use.”

The policy was revised to apply to any employee in a safety sensitive positions, including but not limited to: life guards; employees who operate city vehicles; employees who supervise and transport minors; and employees who exercise a commercial driver’s license, who also have additional regulations that apply.

“City management has the duty and the obligation to maintain and direct public safety and to have a safe work place for all employees,” Doyon said.

Some of the collective bargaining groups have indicated they think such a policy should be addressed through their negotiations, but Doyon said the city administration believes having one policy across the city makes administrative and financial sense.

The city has an agreement with an outside company, ChemNet, that conducts the testing.

IAFF Local 8 has filed a grievance that Doyon denied and their next step is binding arbitration, pursuant to their collective bargaining agreement. Doyon said that on March 19, the city and the union agreed on an arbitrator to hear that case.

IAFF Local 8 also filed an unfair labor practice against the city with the Montana Board of Personnel Appeals. Doyon said the city has filed its response and their awaiting word from an assigned investigator.

Montana Federation of Public Employees’s local union has also filed an unfair labor practice with the board. The MFPE was created when the Montana Public Employees Association merged with another union last year.

Doyon said some may wonder why the city didn’t negotiate the testing, but he said that would create administrative challenges and ultimately could cost more to taxpayers.

“We believe that it’s a management right to do that to ensure that employees are safe in the work place and that the public that they serve are safe as well,” he said.