Around Cook County
It’s been an awesome fall,” said Boldt superintendent Ruth Drake to the Cook County North Shore (CCNSH) Hospital Board at its December 17 meeting.
Drake was there to give an update about the hospital/care center $24.5 million campus expansion.
Scheduled to take two years, work is currently going on at the southeast and northwest portions of the care center. The work most noticeable to the public has been the building of the mezzanine, with crews setting structural steel for the mezzanine and setting wood trusses over the addition.
Drake said work in the mechanical room was almost done and the new boilers should be up and running before it gets too cold. A concrete slab has been poured in the south care center addition.
Hospital/Care Center Director Kimber Wraalstad said residents have been relocated as a result of the construction, and the process has “gone smoothly.”
As carpenters get closer to buttoning up the mezzanine, Drake said more construction workers would be employed. “We should have 30-35 construction workers on site in January. You will see dry-wallers, more electricians, more plumbers, and carpenters on site as the work goes indoors.”
As far as reported accidents, Drake said so far there haven’t been any reported incidents. She said Boldt was very proactive and continually works to monitor workers and site conditions in order to avoid “slips and trips” and other conditions that could be hazardous to employees’ health.
When complete, the 16-bed critical care access hospital and 37-bed nursing care center will include 16 new private hospital patient rooms, a family waiting area, ER with trauma bays, extra rooms, a new ambulance entrance and a unified nurse’s station for acute care.
Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen appeared before the county board on December 22 to see if a determination had made on a request by Dispatch Supervisor/Jail Administrator Judy Sivertson to convert time frozen in Sivertson’s sick leave bank to her Health Care Savings Account.
In 2001 the county began paid leave, which replaced sick leave, personal days and actuarial leave, rolling those all into one contract.
The last time Eliasen came before the board with this request he made the case for the board to make the switch, arguing, “Sick leave banks were frozen and can only be used for medical leave when the paid leave (PL) bank is below 80 hours.”
Eliasen said he couldn’t find documentation on the reasoning, but said he believed it was to create one bank of accrual to maintain more flexibility to use the hours and that accrued hours could be used or paid off.
Eliasen said he had been allowed to convert his sick leave (less than 200 hours) to paid leave hours in the last contract negotiation.
He said the benefit is earned over the career of an employee and by not allowing access, “It creates a hardship at the end of the tenure of the particular employee, as it would be preferable to the employee to become ‘sick’ or seek some type of medical treatment so that they can use their hours. This could be a significant amount of time where the employee is absent from service and the position would remain void until the employee either returns or submits a resignation.”
Eliasen brought this request to the board several weeks ago and the board asked County Administrator Jeff Cadwell to see what the county’s policy was concerning converting sick leave to paid leave.
“Our [current] policy is that our sick leave is not convertible,” Cadwell said.
The State Patrol is stepping up efforts to combat distracted and impaired driving. It’s also an issue here at home. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen about local distractions and the busy December for his department.
During a five-hour meeting of the Cook County School Board on December 17, the school board again tackled ISD 166 budget and fund balance questions.
School Board Member Terry Collins said the school’s current situation is due to three years of deficit spending. He said the situation should be corrected so that it is not just getting pushed down the road for another board to fix.
Collins said, “If we had done this five years ago, we would have money for gym floors and to build a bus garage.”
The school’s unassigned fund balance was $467,512 on June 30, 2015 and is projected to be $280,630 on June 30, 2016. The current fund balance is eight percent of the budget, which is at the low end of the recommended range.
Superintendent Beth Schwarz said that she looked at possible reduction targets of $350,000 to $800,000.
A community member at the meeting said although she realizes some reductions are necessary, she believes part of the reduction can be considered discretionary because of the amount the board wants to see the fund balance increased to.
Board Member Chris Goettl suggested making just the easier cuts now and not being too aggressive with initial reductions. Goettl said, “We don’t know what tomorrow or next year will bring.”
He said he has heard from parents that many students will leave the district if the cuts go too deep.
Collins stated that as hard as it will be to determine where initial cuts in the budget will be, future reductions will be become increasingly difficult. He argued for increasing the fund balance and said, “There is a good reason why our financial advisor, who we pay good money to, says 17 percent.”
A little snow is back in the forecast, but nothing like what they expect to the south of us. So…if you’re planning to spend this New Year’s holiday week in Cook County, be sure to allow for extra travel time. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with National Weather Service meteorologist Dean Packingham.
Each week the WTIP news staff compiles a review of news from the previous five days. Lots of mining talk this week. The city council sets a levy and majority leader Sen. Tom Bakk wants a special session…all this and more in the week’s news.