by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
After 28 years of dedicated work on behalf of the veterans of Morrison County and the surrounding area, Veterans Services Officer (VSO) Paul Froncak will be retiring, effective June 6.
Froncak addressed the County Board Tuesday regarding possible changes to the classification of that position.
“There’s a movement afoot around the state to reduce the importance of veterans services offices,” he said. “I’m sad and depressed that this position might no longer have department head status.”
Several area counties have changed the organization of their veterans services office, generally reporting to either the county administrator or to the human services department.
Veterans in Morrison County generated $26.3 million for the county in fiscal year 2012, Froncak said. An additional $14 million was spent on health care locally.
Commissioner Don Meyer stated that he will not support any change in the structure of the Veterans Service Office.
“I want to see it stay the way it is, as a stand-alone department,” said Commissioner Duane Johnson. “We owe it to our veterans.”
Speaking on behalf of U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, former State Rep. Al Doty, a field representative for Nolan, said, “How we view veterans now is with great respect, but it hasn’t always been that way. (Congressman Nolan’s) concern is that if the department merges, it would diminish the view of veterans.”
In addition to the status of the VSO, the issue of salary was raised. A comparison of 14 other Minnesota counties shows that Morrison County’s VSO is paid 24 percent above the average, at a grade 33.
The commissioners agreed that the issue is not a matter of salary.
“For the people who do this work, it’s not about the money,” Froncak said. “People are dedicated to it.”
Froncak pointed out the high number of veterans in the area.
“There are about 3,000 vets in Morrison County and 2,200 in Todd County,” he said. “We have Camp Ripley in our backyard. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have 100 applicants for this position.”
The Board reached a consensus after lengthy discussion, to decrease the compensation for the position to grade 28 as recommended by the county’s human resources consultant, Dorothy Person, while maintaining the department head status of the office. The issue will come before the Board Tuesday, April 8, for a vote.
“I’m very happy the County Board understood the importance of keeping this as a stand-alone department,” said Froncak. “It’s not a fit to go anywhere else. It’s about the integrity of this department for years to come.”
While Froncak is concerned about the future of the VSO, he does have other plans on the horizon.
“After 28 years I’m going to dig worms; I’m goin’ fishin’,” he said.