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Kent County Looks At Legal Costs
GRAND RAPIDS — County commissioners may expand Kent’s legal department this week, and possibly ratify a major labor agreement at the same time.
The commission is considering adding an assistant corporate counsel to the staff in an effort to reduce the county’s cost of outside legal work. Kent spent nearly $200,000 in 2004 for outsourced legal work, and the county feels that adding an in-house attorney could chop that expenditure in half.
The Legislative and Human Resources Committee approved creating the new position last week.
“I appreciate the economics on this. It’s a prudent decision,” said Jack Horton, a county commissioner and committee member.
An assistant corporate counsel would earn about $70,000 a year to start, with an annual benefits package worth about $25,000. The county would spend another $9,500 to create office space in the administration building for the new attorney.
“It looks like a no-lose decision and I’m always afraid of no-lose decisions,” said County Commissioner Marvin Hiddema.
County Civil Counsel Sherry Batzer reported that Kent spent $655,206 on outside legal work two years ago with $422,828 of that amount going for complex litigation that couldn’t be done by in-house counsel. Of the remaining legal costs, Batzer felt much of the work could have been done within the county that year if another staff member had been onboard.
“In other words, with the increased use of in-house council, fueled most recently by departments’ budgetary concerns, roughly $200,000 in savings could have been realized from this source alone,” wrote Batzer in a memo to commissioners.
County Commissioner Harold Mast added that some counties are using members of their public defender offices as in-house attorneys to save money on outside legal work.
Commissioners will also decide this week whether to ratify a three-year labor agreement with UAW Local 2600, which represents about 960 full- and part-time employees, many working in the court system. The union and county have been without an agreement for 14 months.
The new pact will cost the county roughly $5.8 million above the current base salary cost of $34.4 million over the life of the contract, and it raises the three-year cost of benefits by $661,296. The agreement calls for wage hikes of 2.75 percent for 2005, 2006 and 2007.
“We’re halfway through the contract,” said Mast.
Starting next year, employees will have to begin paying 10 percent of their health care premiums without a monthly maximum in place. Employees are paying 10 percent this year, up to an $80 per-month maximum.
“By government standards, it’s a giant leap,” said Dean Agee, county commissioner and committee chairman, of the maximum being lifted.
“By private sector standards, it’s a generous benefit,” he added.
Local 2600 has approved the contract, as did the Legislative Committee. Commissioners will vote on the labor agreement and the addition of a new corporate counsel on Thursday.