New chairman for Plumas Board – but old problems surface regarding financial systems, buildings

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

Dwight Ceresola

The subject of moving dominated the Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting this week — payroll moving from the Auditor’s office to Human Resources, and which departments would be moving to the county’s East Quincy building formerly home to the Probation Department and Plumas Unified School District, and most recently, the Dixie Fire recovery operations center.

Both discussions, which were presented by County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero, proved to be controversial with no final decisions being made Jan. 3.

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But even prior to those discussions, there was movement at the board. District 1 Supervisor Dwight Ceresola was elected unanimously by his fellow board members to serve as board chairman for 2023. District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood will serve as vice chairman.

Payroll function

Plumas County has been working with dual financial systems that do not interact well and haven’t for years, leaving county employees struggling to complete financial tasks.

CAO Debra Lucero is working with several departments to transition to the newer system, Tyler-Munis, since the Pentamation system is past its lifespan and the county received word five years ago that it would no longer be supported. The county pays more than $13,600 annually for Pentamation tech support that Lucero said hinges “on whether anyone at the company remembers how” it works.  In phasing out Pentamation, the county must move payroll to the newer Munis system, but it has its own issues and will take coordinated effort and time for a successful transition.

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Lucero said that after talking to the Auditor and that department’s consultant, she recommended moving payroll to Human Resources, because the Auditor indicated that she had staffing issues and other projects to complete. Lucero said the Auditor expressed concerns about checks and balances, but her research indicated that other cities and counties have payroll in Human Resources. “Depends on who can do it most efficiently,” Lucero said, adding that it could be a temporary or a permanent move. “This is no way reflective of the current Auditor Controller.”

Lucero said that quite a bit of training is involved, adding that Butte County (where she recently served as supervisor) made the transition three years ago and it was difficult.

Newly seated District 3 Supervisor Tom McGowan asked “if everyone has been aware of this for five years, what has been the holdup on the transition?”

Information Technology Director Greg Ellingson said it’s been a combination of factors, but staff shortage has been the primary issue, and not being able to carve out the time to devote to the transition. He said that it’s “100 percent possible” to make the transition, but it requires concerted time.

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Supervisor Greg Hagwood asked to hear the Auditor’s opinion.

Martee Graham, newly appointed Auditor/Controller, agreed that it’s time to migrate to the new system but strongly recommended that the county resolve the issues it already has with it. Graham did not agree with moving payroll from her department to Human Resources and listed a host of concerns including that it compromises internal controls and removes the segregation of duties, which is important for checks and balances.

“I have reached out to multiple counties,” she said. “Payroll processing is a duty of the auditor controller.” She went on to say that Lassen County does payroll on the same system and had issues. “It is my opinion that many topics need to be discussed before any changes are made,” she said.

Supervisor Hagwood wanted to know why this hasn’t been worked out. “We are at the two-minute warning; why hasn’t this happened before?” he asked. Plumas County has six months remaining on a five-year contract with Munis to support this transition. The cost of the contract exceeds $300,000.

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Graham said that not all parties have been on the same page.

Treasure Julie White agreed with Graham and said that payroll “needs to stay in the Auditor’s office.” She said that the move had not been discussed with her before Graham walked into her office last week and told her. She said she’s against moving it out of the Auditor’s office because of “the checks and balances — that’s what the auditor does.”

Human Resources Director Nancy Selvage weighed in on the topic and described the problems that her office encounters with the present system. “We have been hung up on this for years,” she said and thinks her office can get it where it needs to be. She mentioned some recent issues with payroll, which creates “huge barriers for our workflow. It really needs the full attention of a core group of people working on it.”

There was a little finger pointing about who said what during meetings on the topic, and Supervisor Hagwood said, “We aren’t interested in a back-and-forth brouhaha,” and alluded to the “elephant in the room,” which is disfunction between departments.

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Ultimately it was decided that the payroll matter would be brought before the board again Jan. 10 and regularly thereafter until the issue is resolved.

Who’s moving to East Quincy?

Next up was a recommendation by CAO Lucero that the offices of the County Counsel, Human Resources and Risk Management be moved to the former probation building in East Quincy. Part of the suggestion was precipitated by a flood in the County Counsel’s office that resulted in a move to East Quincy on a temporary basis. Lucero discussed the space needs required by county counsel (its current offices are cramped), but even more so for the Human Resources Department, which often conducts its personnel work in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Supervisor Hagwood agreed. “The current location is unacceptable for their work,” noting the need for more privacy for those who visit HR as well as space for meetings, trainings, testing and interviews.

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However, Supervisor Jeff Engel had other ideas for what should move to East Quincy. “I have been trying to solidify our one-stop center,” he said of his vision to unite the Building and Planning and Environmental health departments in one space close to public works. “During the fire and the pandemic, we got put on the wayside,” he said.  “It would be ideal to have Planning and Building out there because Public Works is right down the road…I’m more interested in access and ease of the public’s ability to get permits.”

Sheriff Todd Johns said he doesn’t have an opinion about who should move, but he questions spending any money on such a project “when we don’t even know the county’s financial status.” He said in the meantime, he continues to lose staff. “As of last week, I have 16 vacant positions.”

Supervisor Kevin Goss noted the building’s most recent use was as a recovery center and wondered what would happen if there were another disaster that needed such an effort.

Supervisor Hagwood said that the fairgrounds could provide the space.

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This topic will also be scheduled for the Jan. 10 meeting, and the supervisors will consider the options presented to them.