Commissioners look to inventory roads, discuss adding communications staff

Madison County commissioners discussed ways to improve the county road index at their weekly meeting in Virginia City on Tuesday.

Currently the maintenance records of Madison Counties’ roads are indexed separately from historical records. As clerk and recorder Peggy Kaatz Stemler explains, cross referencing numerous numbered roads that may or may not be open or maintained by the county can be confusing, and its easy to get lost going down roads that are frequently “also known as” something else.

“My goal is to scan all the information into the computer and network it so that it’s available for all people,” Kaatz Stemler said.

By keeping an electronic archive of the county road index, information will be easier to access and interpret by the public. Commissioner Dave Schulz said he spends a lot of time looking over various county road maps, and admitted “if it were on my computer, it would be that much easier.”

Kaatz Stemler and information technology director Karen Brown plan to start small with a test run of roads selected by the commissioners. This will allow them to determine the most efficient way to archive information, and commissioners suggested developing a GPS-type system to assist work crews on county roads.

While Kaatz Stemler says the project has been on her wish list for a while, her immediate goal is simple: “Anybody who calls or whatever, we can say ‘You can go to Madison County website and all that information is right there.’”

During Tuesday’s meeting the commissioners also met with Madison County communications coordinator Steve DiGiovanna to remedy staffing issues. A motion was carried to designate sheriff’s dispatch officers as “public safety communications officers” as defined by state law. While their work is done behind the scenes, DiGiovanna explained that the communications officers have a difficult and stressful job.

“They do a tremendous job in a situation that is less than ideal,” DiGiovanna said.

DiGiovanna submitted a proposal to commissioners that would reclassify the dispatch pay scale so that communications officers would receive a percentage of the sheriff’s salary as public safety personnel. He submitted a second proposal to employ a total of six communications officers: three at 40 hours per week with full benefits and three at 30 hours per week with full benefits.

Currently the communication center is under-staffed by two positions. As members of the public safety community, communications officers’ duties are not related in any way to other county employees who work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week.

The benefit to the county in hiring additional communications officers would be decreased overtime expenditure, full time staffing in the communications center and improved recruitment and retention, DiGiovanna said.

The sheriff’s department has been looking to hire a part time communications officer for the last two months, but applicants are reluctant to commit to a job that can only offer 8 to 12 hours per week.

Madison County sheriff Dave Schenk explained that the department “can’t bring someone in part-time and expect to keep up because of the intricate nature of their duties.”

Commissioners requested specifics on where funding would come from for the proposals but took no action.

In other news the commissioners carried a motion to hire Theresa Stack as public health administrator for Madison County. Stack holds a masters degree in public health from the University of Washington and will begin work full-time Sept. 15. Commissioners also discussed the budgets for the department of Nursing Homes with Judy Melin of Madison Valley Manor in Ennis and John Semingson of the Tobacco Root Mountain Care Center in Sheridan, but took no action on the issue.

Madison County commissioners will continue to hold special meetings around the county to take public commentary on plans to expand county offices and storage space in Virginia City. The next round of listening sessions will take place Aug. 25 starting at 10 a.m. at the South Madison Fire Hall, barbecue lunch at Madison Valley Manor at 12 p.m. and continuing at Ennis Fire Hall at 2 p.m. Additional meetings will be held Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. at the Madison County Broadway Annex in Virginia City and Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. at the Huntley Lodge in Big Sky. Following the meeting in Big Sky on the sixth, commissioners will hold public hearing in the Dunraven-Obsidian Room starting at 11 a.m. on the proposed parks and recreation district in Big Sky.

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