Is it 13? 15? 16?
Seward County government officials cannot agree on how many people work in the county attorney’s office.
As the Seward County Board of Commissioners has been reviewing county budget proposals, some commissioners have said the county attorney’s office is too big.
“We just believe it’s overstaffed, and we’re just trying to get it back down to budget,” Board of Commissioners Chairman John Culver told the Seward County Independent on July 23.
Disagreement on numbers
Following a story published July 31 that included a quote from Culver claiming 16 people worked in County Attorney Wendy Elston’s office, Elston approached the Seward County Independent on Aug. 6, saying 16 people do not work in her office.
Further investigation into the exact number of individuals employed in the office has yielded conflicting results, and it is not exactly clear how many people work in Elston’s office.
According to Denise Janssen, program director for Seward County Pretrial Diversion, the county attorney’s office employs 13 individuals and has one opening.
That includes three attorneys, three legal assistants, five diversion program employees and two child support employees, according to Janssen.
However, budget documents Elston submitted to the Board of Commissioners indicate that number may be 15. Even then, it is unclear which of these positions are funded by taxpayers and which are funded by outside sources like grants.
Elston submitted three salary sheets as a part of her budget request for the upcoming year. Each includes a position description, salary, employee hire date and number of hours worked per week, but no names.
The first salary sheet, called Salary Sheet for Attorney’s Office, lists 12 employees. All but one of those 12 are listed as working 40 hours per week. One of those positions, described on the document as Legal Secretary II with a start date of April 18, 2019, apparently works eight hours a week.
It appears the other 32 hours of that position are listed on another salary sheet, called Salary Sheet for Attorney Grant. Here is listed a position called Legal Secretary II with the same start date of April 18, 2019, and as working 32 hours.
This second salary sheet lists three additional positions. However, two of those three positions are listed with the same start date, each working 20 hours per week. The final position listed on this salary sheet has a start date of Jan. 26, 2015, and works four hours per week.
The third salary sheet, called Salary Sheet for Attorney Federal Community Based Program, lists a position with the same start date as the final position from the second salary sheet and a total of 36 hours per week. A second position with a unique hire date and that works 40 hours per week is also listed.
If the split positions that have the same hire date and that combine to work 40 hours per week are the same people, 15 people work in the county attorney’s office: 11 from the first salary sheet, one split across the first and second salary sheets, one listed as two 20-hour positions on the second salary sheet, one listed as two separate positions on the second and third salary sheets and one final position on the third salary sheet.
At least one other county department also splits positions across salary sheets in its budget proposals, according to Culver. The sheriff’s department receives funding for partial positions from the Department of Homeland Security.
Culver told the Seward County Independent on Aug. 14 that he meant to say 15 and that he may have been “regurgitating” what others had told him when he said the Seward County attorney’s office has 16 employees “when York’s got three or Saline’s got two or three.”
Both York and Saline counties have six individuals employed in their respective county attorneys’ offices, according to a spreadsheet prepared by Seward County assessor Marilyn Hladky that compares the size of the Seward County attorney’s office to the sizes of the office in six comparable counties.
Phone calls to both counties’ county attorney’s offices confirmed that each employs six individuals.
That spreadsheet says the Seward County attorney’s office has 16 employees, which Hladky said she derived from the three salary sheets Elston submitted.
Janssen, who supplied the number 13, said she was not authorized by Elston to provide answers to questions regarding which positions on the second two salary sheets are the same and which are funded by outside money versus taxpayer dollars.
Elston could not be reached for comment. A phone message left for Elston on Aug. 7 was answered by Janssen, and a second phone message left for Elston on Aug. 14 went unanswered.
Culver said that some of those positions may be paid for by grants, but they still come at a cost to taxpayers.
“There are still some minor, consequential costs,” he said.
According to Culver, taxpayers have to pay for benefits like health insurance for those positions.
Elston told the Seward County Independent on July 23 that benefits like health insurance are provided only if the employee carries health insurance.
“It’s just who happens to be in that position,” she said.
Elston also said enough fees are generated by her office to cover those costs.
“If you tracked the money, it would basically be somewhat of a wash,” she said. “I think we actually bring in more money than that costs.”
It was unclear if Elston meant all fees generated by her office or fees generated through the specific programs staffed by the positions funded by grants.
Culver said he does not believe the programs staffed by grant positions