MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners formally promoted county Utilities Director Kevin Varness to Public Services director on Monday, filling a position that has been vacant for more than three years.
County Commission Chairman Herb Welch said that the role has “practically been filled by Kevin for months now, we just decided to make it official.”
Varness will keep his duties in charge of the utilities division of the county, he will now also help oversee the county’s environmental health division, facility services, planning and building and the county’s road division.
Varness, who lives in Montesano, has been employed by the county for 36 years.
In promoting Varness, the county will leave vacant his old role as utilities director.
“I support the plan as it is but don’t think we should fill any additional positions, given our current budget situation,” added County Commissioner Wes Cormier.
The county’s Planning & Building director position will also remain vacant, with Varness assuming that role, as well, according to the commissioners.
“That’s also a budget-saving item for us that I think will work in the short term,” Welch said.
Commissioner Frank Gordon lauded Varness’ finesse, noting he’s been supported in the past by the county’s unions and his co-workers and has a proven track record working on personnel issues.
The public services director position has been vacant since May of 2009, when then-director Paul Easter was laid off amid budget cuts at the county. Since the position was eliminated, each of the county’s department heads have been responsible with the county commissioners serving as the ultimate voice on arbitration issues.
Welch said he thinks the county will save money in the long run, noting that recent meetings have taken multiple union employees off the job along with department heads, and the county has paid for its private labor attorney.
“I have no doubt that Kevin is going to truly help us out on personnel matters, settling things before they ever reach our table,” Gordon said.
“There have been a lot of minor things that have gotten to the level of a grievance when I think they could have been taken care of if we had someone at the top to handle these things,” Welch said.
Varness will make $107,316, which is $9,756 more than he’s making now. He enters in the role at Step 8 on a table of 10 salary steps, which means in two years, he’ll likely reach the top tier and get $111,036.