Town supervisors in Essex County have opted to get prices for a new timecard system using fingerprints.

The nearly 700 full-time, part-time and per-diem county employees would have to press their fingers to a panel to clock in and out.

The system, at $100,000, would not save the county money. But it would make the county-payroll process less complex, reducing the need for duplicated paperwork, officials say.

And it would help address time-management issues in some county departments.

"We now have to gather all the time sheets (from each department) and re-enter them in the system," County Manager Daniel Palmer told the supervisors at the Personnel Committee meeting this week.

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) asked if there is a perceived time-abuse problem with county employees.

"Yes," Palmer said. "That's why we want to go to a biometric system."

"If we know there's a time-abuse problem, what are department heads doing about it?" Scozzafava asked.

LESS PAPERWORK

Palmer said management works under the 10-minute rule, allowing employees to arrive up to 10 minutes late without repercussions.

County Personnel Officer Monica Feeley described the proposed system as built from a central connection to all county offices.

Individual fingerprints would send time in and time out daily directly to the Personnel Office.

Employees would have to confirm the hours worked, as would their supervisor or department head.

But the biometric time sheet would remove any potential for human error, either in calculating available vacation time or personal time taken off.

It would alleviate time-consuming paperwork in the largest county offices, including Horace Nye Nursing Home, the Payroll Department and the Sheriff's Department.

The county currently uses three different timecard systems in various departments, which require three, sometimes four, entries for payroll.

And if department supervisors do not include necessary paperwork to account for an employee's days off or other absences, the process of chasing down explanation becomes labor intensive.

"There is a big margin for error there," Feeley said.

EMERGENCY INFO

County employees would also be able to request time off through the biometric system, thus tracking both time worked and time due off.

"It is not additional paperwork," Feeley said. "There also wouldn't be a badge to lose or forget."

And, she said, employees would not be able to be paid for benefit time they didn't earn.

The accurate attendance record would provide good information in the event of emergency, too.

"We would know who to account for," she said, if there were a fire or other emergency situation at one of the County Complex buildings.

Feeley said the new system would cost, at most, $100,000 to purchase and install with an annual upkeep of $6,000 or $7,000.

Palmer said the one-time, up-front cost of $100,000 is a per-license fee and includes purchase of the time-keeping units for around $20,000.

"It will fit into the current budget," Palmer said.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Personnel would charge 46 cents per day per employee back to each department, sharing cost of the system.

"Nobody likes to spend money," Palmer said, "but I think we can absorb it in this budget."

The biometric system isn't about saving money, at this point, he added.

"It's really about accountability."

Scozzafava said $100,000 is too much to spend under current budget constraints.

Essex County is looking to bridge a $7 million gap and can raise the tax levy only $147,000 under new 2-percent property-tax-cap legislation.

Supervisor Dan Connell (D-Westport) said this was not an appropriate time to be looking to spend $100,000 on a new time-management system without eliminating positions to warrant the purchase.

OUT TO BID

Ticonderoga Supervisor Debra Malaney said they are spending $50,000 in her town to install a similar system for 70 employees.

Newcomb Supervisor George Canon moved that the Personnel Committee go out to bid on the system and bring accurate figures back for review.

The measure passed the committee and will return to the board for further discussion.

Email Kim Smith Dedam at: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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