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Missoula County authorizes overtime pay for virus workers; watches stimulus bill

Posted at 3:58 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 17:58:33-04

MISSOULA — Missoula County commissioners have authorized the county’s director of human resources to make policy changes to ensure that certain employees who are working the COVID-19 pandemic earn their regular hourly rate for overtime.

Commissioners on Thursday also said they’re watching the $2 trillion stimulus package making its way through Congress for its potential benefits to local government, including a request to refinance debt at a lower interest rate and an opportunity to enter the bond market.

But at 1,000 pages long, local governments aren’t sure what the stimulus package contains, though Missoula County made a number of requests earlier this week to the state’s Congressional delegation.

“Hopefully these things are folded into those 1,000 pages, but we don’t yet,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “If we could refinance our debt, that could save us a lot of money, and if bonding capacity were reestablished, it could help us out as well.”

Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines this week said the stimulus bill would direct at estimated $1.2 billion to Montana to assist local governments during the pandemic. Commissioners aren’t yet certain how that money will be earmarked, or how it will be distributed.

But issues around refinancing debt and bonding remain of high interest to Missoula County.

“Those are things not quantified in the billion or so dollars that might be flowing to the state of Montana,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “But they’re absolutely important to us from a financial standpoint in terms of increasing our capacity to deliver the services we need to deliver.”

In their morning administrative meeting, held via conference call, commissioners also authorized the county’s director of human resources to ensure that front-line workers receive overtime pay related to the current pandemic.

“For the most part, exempt employees in Missoula County do not earn monetary overtime. They earn hour-by-hour comp time, which they can take off in the future,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief operating officer.

“But due to the nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the employees in the Health Department, who would normally be exempt including nurses and others, are working extra hours, as are several folks in the emergency operations world.”

The policy change approved Thursday would allow human resources to consider overtime pay on a case-by-case basis for those exempt workers, ensuring they’re paid for overtime after their regular 40-hour week.

“Those hours that are paid at the regular hourly rate would be reimbursable under FEMA,” Lounsbury said. “Any other department that might have those needs would still need to bring those to (commissioners) for an exception.”