Joint Budget Personnel Subcommittee

March 1, 2022

 

Wooten One page 12 or 15, they’ve marked through 139,000. They’ve got 562,000. Do you know what– 

 

Staff Yes, sir, because– I think that’s because the positions are all coming back. They’re moving those positions out of Shared Services and out of the investigations appropriation. The whole investigations appropriation is going away. So they’re moving the appropriation with the positions back into fair housing. 

 

Wooten Okay. All right. Any other questions? We need a motion on that? 

 

Staff Yes, sir. 

 

Wooten We need a– I have a motion and a second. All in favor say aye. All opposed likewise. Motion passes. Next item.

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item B 2. This is Governor’s Letter 9. It created amendments WFP 056 and WFP 057 for the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. The Governor’s Letter and amendments move 11 positions and the appropriation amounts from Parks and Tourism division operations appropriation to the Parks, Heritage and Tourism Shared Services appropriation. So in essence, this is going from, from the Parks department or the Parks division back to the Parks, Heritage and Tourism Shared Services to be used across all the different divisions. 

 

Wooten So what I would call a central office then. It’s shared? 

 

Staff Yes, sir. 

 

Wooten Okay. Any questions on this letter from the governor? No increase in appropriation. No increase. Are they raising the salaries? 

 

Staff I’m not sure about increases in appropriation. I know that the appropriation for the positions is being moved. 

 

Wooten OK. So they’re moving all of them. Do I have a motion on this letter? Motion. Second. All in favor, say aye. Opposed. Thank you. Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item B 3. This is Governor’s Letter 10. This created Amendment MAH 082 for the Office of Skills Development at the Department of Commerce. The amendment adds an additional ACOM program advisor position to the regular salaries Shared Services section, along with the regular salary and match appropriation in the operations section. So this is an additional position. There are further appropriation adjustments you can see in Section 5 for office of skills development appropriation and the state appropriations– state operations appropriation for rural services in Section 27. There are also four sections of special language to be amended, but these will be heard by special language if they, if they weren’t heard yesterday. 

 

Wooten Anyone from Commerce here. If you would, identify yourself. 

 

Waits Yeah. Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chair. Cody Waites, director for the Office of Skills Development. 

 

Wooten I have a question on this. You’re creating– you want to explain what you’re creating the position for?

 

Waits Sure. So, the Office of Skills Development was created back in 2015 and been operating since 16. And since then, we haven’t added any additional positions or anything of that nature. In that same amount of time, right, we have grown a number of our programs. Apprenticeship, for example, we’ve gone from 82 programs over 125. We’ve increased the number of apprentices we’re serving around the state from roughly around 3,500 to well over 7,500. In addition to that right, we’ve taken on some additional items and programs under Act 1079 of 2019, which require us to do some industry led sector reviews, creating an industry certified credential list and a number of other items that we are spreading around current staff. And it’s just not operating as efficiently as it could be. You know, we’ve taken and moved kind of items around. We’ve automated some internal processes to try to make it flow more efficiently. And that’s why we’re asking for this position is just we really need it in order to kind of continue operations as we need to see fit for the people who we serve through our programs. 

 

Wooten You didn’t, you didn’t have any other positions vacant that you could– 

 

Waits No, sir. 

 

Wooten All your positions are filled? 

 

Waits Yes, sir. 

 

Wooten Any other questions from any member? Seeing none, do I have a motion to accept? Second, second. All in favor say aye. All opposed. Thank you. 

 

Waits Thank you, sir. 

 

Wooten Appreciate it. Thank you. 

 

Waits Thank you, members of the committee. 

 

Wooten Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, we’re moving on to item B4. This is, this is member amendment HAR 140. And this is from Representative Wardlaw and it amends SB 17, which is for the University of Arkansas at Monticello. The amendment moves 6 faculty positions and 20 graduate assistants from the 9 month to the 12 month academic sections. There’s no change in appropriation and no additional positions, just movement of positions. 

 

Wooten Any questions? Do I have a motion to approve? Motion. Second? Second. All in favor, say aye. Opposed likewise. Thank you. Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman. Item C, these are the regular business items. Item C is a request to move one ACE program coordinator, GS10, from the Division of Career  and Technical Ed at the Department of Education into their Shared Services division. OPM has recommended the requested transfer. Now because this is regular– this is a regular business request, this will have, upon the review of this item, this would happen in this fiscal year. More than likely for several of these items that we’re about to talk about, you’ll see governors letters that come, come through tomorrow that will pick these same positions up and move them permanently over to Shared Services for FY 23. 

 

Wooten Any questions? So explain that one more time now, exactly. 

 

Staff OK, so since we, since transformation has gone into place, agencies have had the ability to come in and request positions be moved out of the agencies’– or the departments’ individual divisions up to Shared Services. That– it is my understanding that that ability is going away at the end of this fiscal year. And so we’ve got governors letters that are asking to move positions up to Shared Services permanently, so they meet that deadline. And we’ve got some of these requests are to do that now. And that goes along with those governors’ letters so they can get it done now and then carry it forward into 23 as well. 

 

Wooten OK. All right. Any questions? I have a motion. Second. Second. All in favor say aye. Opposed. Next. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item D is a request to move one information technology manager, Grade IT05, from the accountancy board to the Shared Services Division of Labor and Licensing. OPM has recommended the requested transfer. 

 

Wooten OK, any questions? Do I  have a motion?  OK, second. All in favor, indicate by saying aye. Opposed likewise. Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item E is a request to move 11 positions from the Parks division to Shared Services. This goes along with Governor’s Letter 9 that we just handled. It’s the same 11 positions, so they’re just wanting to move these now. 

 

Wooten In this–

 

Staff Yes, sir. 

 

Wooten This current year? These–OK. 

 

Staff Yes, sir. These 11 in Item E. 

 

Wooten Any questions on this? Do I have a motion? Motion. Second. All in favor say aye. Opposed likewise. Motion passed. Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item F is a request from the Department of Agriculture to create one new classification of agri law enforcement assistant chief. This is just a job title and a grade. It does not create a new position. They want to use this title on an existing position they already have. 

 

Wooten So it’s just changing the title? 

 

Staff Well, we’re creating a title for them to use. Yes, sir. And then they can, they can go through OPM to do what’s called a crossgrade downgrade to be able to use this particular title. 

 

Wooten Any discussions? Questions? Motion? Second. All in favor say aye. All opposed. Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, we are going to skip over Item G. This particular request is being changed. We’ll see it tomorrow. So we’re just going to hold it for tomorrow. 

 

Wooten Okay. 

 

Staff Item H. This is a– sorry, item H is a request from the Public Employee Retirement System to create four new growth pool positions with the classifications listed. The last classification is new and will be created upon review of the request. OPM has recommended the four positions and the new classification and estimates the projected cost to be about $307,000. 

 

Wooten Plus? 307 increase? 

 

Staff Yes, sir. Yes, sir. They’re going to expend 307,000 roughly more with these four additional positions. 

 

Wooten Any questions on this item H? Senator Hickey? 

 

Hickey Yes, sir. I guess I’d just like to hear– I don’t, I don’t know that I have any issues with this. I mean, we’ve been operating a certain way. Now what– why do we need– why do we need these? And what, what within our operation is causing us to need, to need these additional salaries from where we’re at right now? 

 

Yes, sir. I’m not sure if Duncan is here yet or not. Here he comes. He can give more specifics. 

 

Baird Duncan Baird, executive director of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Well, I think you had asked kind of about how we were operating differently or, you know, are we operating the same? And I think really the reason that we’re bringing them is because we aren’t operating the same. You know, I’ve been with APERS for 3 years. We’ve been working during that time period to reduce the number of field positions. We’ve gone from 72 three years ago to 61 today. So we’ve been trying to be very efficient in how we, you know, run the agency and administer the agency. If you look back, you know, even 10 years ago, we had 74 employees. And so you know, the point that we’ve reached today is very low historically. You know, from an efficiency standpoint, when you look at the number of employees that we have per member, we’ve gone from about 990 members per employee to about 1,350 today. So, you know, so I think we’re doing very good from an efficiency standpoint. But you know, these positions really go back to, you know, that question of, you know, are we operating the same or are we operating differently? And we’re really trying to operate differently. And that’s the reason to bring these today. And, you know, we’ve tried to be very efficient, but we really want to circle back and try to fill some of the needs that we’ve identified over the last 3 years, you know, just so as we move forward, we can continue to, you know, work to improve our business processes, work to increase the level of service we provide to our members. You know, for us, you know, accuracy and quality is important because, you know, a retirement benefit is a, a lifetime decision. You know, it’s important that, you know, the members make the right decision and it’s also important that we make the right calculations there. And so we really just want to position ourselves very well as we go forward. And that’s what we’re bringing these for today. 

 

Hickey And that’s fine. I don’t want to continue. But let’s just take, if you don’t mind Mr. Chair, the attorney specialist, OK? What– I would assume that we’ve had these type people there, you know, currently? What additional duties are they going to, are they going to take on? 

 

Baird You know, so, you know, in the case of the attorney, we do have a chief legal counsel. You know, I think if you look at the, you know, the history of APERS, if you go back to about 15 years ago, there wasn’t an attorney in the agency. I think, I think we had our first attorney back in 2007. There was a period of time where our deputy director was an attorney and we also had a chief legal counsel. So we had 2 attorneys on staff, but today we only have one. I think the importance of the attorney is that our plan design is in the law. So like when you think of like a 401K, you know, you get a document in the mail and that document is your 401K plan. But in the case of APERS, you know, our plan design is the law. You know, it’s the laws that you all create. It’s also the federal laws that we have to comply with in order to be tax qualified. And, you know, so it’s just important that we get the legal part right. And we’ve done some other things. We’ve, you know, we have outside tax counsel that we utilize. But you know, I think the importance internally is just to have, you know, the ability to continue to build that knowledge internally and make sure we’re able to give our members due process when they ask for it. And there are some duties that we would plan to shift to that position over time. For example, I’m the state Social Security administrator, and so over time there’s a duty that we would want a new attorney to get more involved in. So, so there are things, you know, our rules and regulations, we want to do some work on those as well. So, so we have plans for that. There is a need there, but it’s a variety of needs. 

 

Hickey One more, Mr. Chair and then I’ll stop. I’ll skip this one. If you could, just on the human resources manager, because I guess I just need to understand if we haven’t taken on more employees, as I thought I heard you say, then why do we need that? Have we not had it? Is this an addition? I mean, it looks like– well, I mean, it is an addition, but– 

 

Baird You know, what we’ve had is a director of operations that in the past did, you know, our budget, did procurement, did HR. But, you know, that position has also transitioned as well. We’ve moved the budget and procurement over to our finance team, and what we’d like to do is have a dedicated HR staff and be able to utilize this operations position more in our benefits area. And you know, when you think about our benefits administration, we have one GS 09 right now that supervises all of our pre-retirement counselors, post retirements, our call centers, about 2 dozen people under one GS 09. And so a lot of the movement is to try to get more, you know, structure and more management over in the benefits administration area. Once again, because, you know, we are, you know, we’ve got 40,000 active members, 40,000 retirees. We process a lot of transactions. You know, we just want to make sure that we’re able to serve our members at a high level. But also we want to do do it in a very accurate, very high quality way. And, you know, so the HR person is actually there, once again, you know, so that we can shift more over to the benefits part. So it kind of goes back to this idea of, you know, are we operating the same or are we trying to operate differently. And we’re very much trying to evolve for the future. 

 

Hickey Thank you, Mr Chair.. 

 

Ingram Duncan, the– you know, we’re going to have some pretty significant changes in our benefit package. Do you have enough staff that can ensure proper communications in the field with our people to make sure that it’s clear what these changes are going to be? Or is that going to be more on the provider to introduce this new benefit package? Because communication, as you know, is the key to this this whole deal. 

 

Baird Yeah, it really is. And you know, we’ve made some changes there. When I came in, we had a– someone that was over educational outreach. We’ve added another staff member there. So we’ve tried to emphasize the outreach that we do, the seminars that we do. You know, we’ve tried to increase our communication as well. You know, these pieces that we’re looking at today also fit into that puzzle because when we talk about benefits administration, we’re also talking about the outreach piece and the communication piece. And so, so there is still a lot of work to be done, you know, in the communication part. I know a lot of members are familiar with that, you know, the changes that have been put in place. We’ve done some communication through our, our newsletters as to the, you know, the changes that were proposed, the changes that were enacted. And now we’re working on, you know, the ramp up for the actual implementation of the changes in July. But you know, these fit as part of that puzzle. But you know, I think it also illustrates, you know, just the complexity of the benefit. You know, when you think about we’ve got, you know, we have old contributory members from the 70s and before. We have all the noncontributory members up through, you know, the early 2000s. We had the new contributory plan and now we have another variation of the contributory plan. And that’s just for APERS. You know, we also– our counselors administer the Judicial Retirement System, State Police Retirement System, we also have the old district judges retirement system. And so, you know, the job that our benefits folks do is, you know, it’s very complex. You know, everybody’s individual career path, you know, if you’re a member of our system, you may have gone through one or more systems. You know, you might have been in the Legislature, you might have been a regular state employee. You might have some two for one service. As a county employee, you might have been a judge at some point. And so, you know, they’re very much skilled positions and we just want to make sure that we’re always moving in the direction of doing it more accurate, you know, more timely, you know, with a higher level of service as we go forward. 

 

Ingram You’d be familiar with that moving from the Legislature to state employment, wouldn’t you? 

 

Baird Well, I mean, that’s very true. But you know, we also, you know, I think a lot of the complex cases, you know, that we get are just around those kind of things. You know, somebody goes from the executive branch over to the judicial retirement system and they wonder, you know, how’s reciprocal service going to work there? And you know, how many years am I gonna have to work? And you know, so we get all kinds of questions and it is very complex and it all goes back to the law once again, you know, the plan design. 

 

Ingram So you’re comfortable that you’ve got enough staff? Because the key to this implementation of what we’re getting ready to do is communication. And you’re comfortable that you’ve got that covered?

 

Baird So we’re comfortable. We’ve been working on the, the technology implementation. We rely a lot on technology. We’ve been working on that, you know, ever since the changes were enacted. You know, even before that, we were talking to our technology vendor. You know, I think communication is always hard just because, you know, especially for our system, you know, we cover a lot of different employers in a lot of different places. You know, I think about, you know, if you go to a county, there’s not just one office you can go to that has all of our members. You know, you would have the, you know, the county employees. You might have some various cities and city employees. In any particular county, you might have a community corrections office that’s separate from a child support enforcement office, separate from a DFA office. And so, you know, we do have a challenge from a communication standpoint. Well, once again, I think, you know, some of the work that we want to do with these positions is actually to try to beef up that area of benefits administration, which includes communication and outreach and, and so that’s part of the long term goal, I think, from our perspective. 

 

Ingram Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

Wooten Any, any other questions? Seeing no other questions, is there a motion? I have a motion. Second? Second. All in favor, say aye. Opposed likewise. Thank you. Next item. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item I is a request from DHS to provide a 10 percent certification differential for employees in the listed classifications at the Prior Authorization and Utilization Review Unit if they have medical or dental billing coding certification. The differentials are added to an employee’s salary and are removed if the employee transfers to a different section or division where the certification is no longer required. OPM recommends the the requested differential and estimates the cost to be about $131,000. 

 

Wooten Any questions on this one? Mark, you want to come forward, please? Mr. White. Identify yourself. 

 

White Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mark White, Department of Human Services. 

 

Wooten Would you elaborate a little bit? We’ve already had 109 positions that we’ve added over there. And you and I talked about it and the secretary talked about it. But now we’re asking for, what, 10, is it? 

 

Staff These aren’t additional positions, Mr. Chairman. They’re just– it’s, it’s a, it’s an add-on to the–. 

 

Wooten Add on 10 percent? Okay.

 

Staff Yes, sir. Is, is this the one where we discussed the other day where you’re adjusting the division heads at the department? 

 

White No, sir. No, sir. This is just a, is a small part of our division of medical services. These are the nurses and other experts who work around Medicaid billing and need familiarity with the codes that are used for health care billing. And this just allows us to provide a differential for those who get a certain certification that’s related to that. And the reason is, folks with that certification command much higher salaries in medical clinics and doctor’s offices. And so we just want to be able to compete with that. And if I can, we our folks are looking at the letter, and we just realized there was one misstatement in the letter from OPM. And that’s, I think, that’s all our fault. We apologize for that. We can pay for the training. The letter says we can’t. We can pay for the training, but we thought the differential would be the best way to help keep these folks in our offices and not lose them to hospitals and doctor’s offices poaching them. 

 

Wooten Okay, so this is a competitive move, to do the marketplace? 

 

White Yes. 

 

Wooten Any, any other questions? Do we have a motion? Motion. Second. All in favor, aye. All in favor. Opposed. Thank you. Next.Thank you, Mark. 

 

Staff Mr. Chairman, Item J is report only. Does not require any action, but I’ll take any questions if there are any. 

 

Wooten Any questions or item J? Any questions? Okay. We’ll, we’ll adjourn now, but we’ll be back here in the morning at 7:30 at the same time. I know there’s some questions have been raised about the resolution of the COLA deal and there’s a meeting getting ready to start here in just a few minutes with the governor’s office and Senator Dismang and Senator Hickey and to discuss exactly how we’re going to attempt to deal with that. So if any of you here for that, hopefully in the morning we’ll have a resolution as to how we’re going to handle that. Any, any other business? OK, we’re adjourned. Thank you.