Despite some financial concerns, the Ellis County Commission approved a request to hire a network technician before a retiring staff member leaves the department next spring.

Ellis County IT Director Mike Leiker made the request for the overfill position at Monday night’s commission meeting. The request was approved 2-0; Commissioner Barbara Wasinger was absent.

A staff member will be retiring at the beginning of April, and Leiker told commissioners he wanted to help retain that individual’s 20 years of knowledge by hiring a replacement as soon as possible so that person can be trained by the retiring employee.

Most of the new employee’s training will focus on cross-training with other staff so they can cover for each other in case of vacations or illness, Leiker said, but he wants a new employee with knowledge of security issues.

“We're going to focus more on cybersecurity and network security, so it's important we find somebody that has those skills and can hit the ground running so to speak,” he said.

The overlapping positions will create a salary expense of about $23,000, but Leiker said his department will be able to make that up.

“We can absorb that cost through some savings that we've been able to garner through licensing and maintenance contracts and fees by extending those or deferring those costs until 2020 and 2021,” he said.

Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst asked Leiker if he already had examined combining or changing around duties.

“I'm not opposed to hiring somebody that early, but I guess I'm more in favor of say, six weeks before his retirement or maybe even eight weeks. I guess four months seems like a long time to pay to be overstaffed,” Haselhorst said.

Leaker said the small staff is already sharing responsibilities as much as possible, but the security issues make that a large task in itself.

“The security portion duties I've been handling myself. Unfortunately because of the environment we live in today with security, the requirements have gotten so vast, I can't keep up,” he said.

Commissioner Marcy McClellend said county policy has been not to overfill positions, but cybersecurity was an important enough issue to rescind that policy in this case.

In other business, the commission:

• Tabled taking any action on employee pay raises until January. Haselhorst and McClellend said they believed Wasinger should be present for any decision made by this commission. Haselhorst also noted two new commissioners will be coming to the board in January, and they might want to have a say as well.

The commission allowed for $135,000 in the fiscal 2019 budget for raises, which in the past have been negotiated for some employees by Service Employees International Union. However, the county opted out of the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act a year ago, ending the union’s collective bargaining for employees in public works, sheriff’s office, EMS and the courthouse. Instead, a wage and benefits committee will represent all employees.

“We’re in an odd sort of transitional period here,” County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said. “Right now we kind of have neither of the processes in place.”

• Approved 2-0 a proposal to withdraw from the Northwest Kansas Solid Waste Authority, which was formed in 1994 to help the region’s counties hire a consultant to guide them through new federal landfill regulations. The group has become outdated, and withdrawing will allow the county to apply for state grants in a more timely fashion.

• Declined to close offices Wednesday. President Donald Trump and Gov. Jeff Collyer have declared the day of President George H.W. Bush’s funeral a day of mourning. State and federal offices will be closed, but Haselhorst and McClellend noted this is a busy time of year for county offices and a ribbon cutting is planned at 4 p.m. for the Cottonwood Extension Service, 601 Main.