Ellis County commissioners on Tuesday spoke in favor of establishing a permanent staff committee to provide annual input regarding employee wages and benefits, a move that follows the commission's decision last month to opt out of labor union negotiations beginning at the end of this year.

While details of the committee have not been decided, commissioners agreed an employee from each of the county’s four bargaining units should be included. The county has negotiated with four labor union groups representing service employees in public works, the sheriff’s department, EMS and the courthouse.

“I guess my thought was … if we could have one from each of the bargaining groups to start with, especially for the first year,” Commissioner Dean Haselhorst said. “And then maybe each department head would also participate in that. I think the first year is going to be very important.”

Details of the committee will be revisited at a later time following a discussion among the county’s executive team. Commissioners indicated, however, they would like the committee to have between nine and 11 members — including employees from each labor union — who would be appointed to serve limited terms.

Commissioners initially had expressed a desire to include a representative from each county department, but County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said that would create a 15-member board. He also noted some county departments have only a few employees, while others have several dozen.

“I think a percentage based on the size of the department ... trying to make it a little more even-Steven than one representative for all the employees makes a lot of sense,” Commission chairperson Barbara Wasinger said. “I think that’s a good direction to go in.”

Smith-Hanes also noted if all 11 department heads were on the committee, employees in leadership positions easily could have the majority voice when paired with the four departments currently covered by union negotiations. It was suggested department leaders instead could nominate other employees to serve on the wage and benefit committee.

Wasinger also spoke strongly in favor of the commission approving a resolution that would make the committee permanent, though membership would change through time.

The commission was presented with information regarding how several other Kansas cities and counties receive employee feedback for salary and benefit issues. While some — including the city of Hays — have a wage and benefit committee, others rely on surveys and several do not have an official mechanism for soliciting employee feedback regarding salaries.

Commissioner Marcy McClelland also spoke in favor of establishing a committee to discuss wage and benefit issues. The committee’s establishment is expected to be discussed again in a few weeks.

“I believe the first year will be the hardest as far as setting the standards and so forth,” McClelland said. “I think that each one of the bargaining groups should be represented, and they can also ask for input from the department heads. I believe the commission will have to set policy for them to discuss.”