Plumas County supervisors approve volunteer policy

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

Plumas County relies on the help of volunteers — at least 137 of them, according to a recent survey.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, the Board of Supervisors approved a policy designed to standardize the training and background checks for people who volunteer their time and services to the county.

“I went over this (volunteer policy) with a fine-tooth comb, and I feel OK with it,” Chairwoman Lori Simpson said.

The supervisors were unanimous in their vote to approve the updated policy that was two years in the making.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire drafted the policy at the request of the county’s Risk Management Department.

“This has been addressed several times over the years,” Settlemire said. “But no formal policy has ever been adopted by the board.”

Some people who coordinate the volunteer efforts for the county were concerned that additional training and background checks could discourage volunteers.

Leslie Wall, coordinator for Plumas Rural Services’ Community Connections, said her organization already conducts training and background checks for its 230 volunteers.

“We do background checks on all of our members, regardless of whether they are working with children or not,” Wall said. “We have them show proof of insurance and a driver’s license. Then they sign a release form to release their driving record.”

Rose Buzzetta from Friends of the Animal Shelter said her volunteers also get extensive training.

“If our volunteers have to go through training with (county) human resources and then training through risk management … it’s cumbersome,” Buzzetta said. “I’m afraid that we will lose volunteers.”

Settlemire said in some cases training and background checks done by volunteer organizations will satisfy the county’s requirements.

He said volunteers who will be working unsupervised with children would need to be fingerprinted, “just as we would have our own employees in that situation. And just as the schools have people fingerprinted and check their background to make sure there aren’t any offenses that could put children at risk.” Settlemire said, “That’s the reason why you have something like that in (the policy).”

In some cases, the volunteers might have to pay for the fingerprinting costs. Wall said it costs about $90 for fingerprinting.

Basically, county volunteers can expect to be subject to the same safety training and orientation as county employees.

They will also get some of the same benefits. Volunteers working for the county will be covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

According to a survey of county departments conducted by the County Counsel’s Office, volunteers provided 12,916 hours of service to the county in fiscal 2010-11.

Four departments responded to the survey, which indicated 25 volunteers worked at the library and 22 at the museum.

Another 90 people donated time to the UC Davis Extension Farm Advisor Office. Most of those volunteers come from the University of California’s 4-H Youth Development Program.

Simpson said she pushed to institute the volunteer policy partly because of a former volunteer.

She shared the story.

“Every month for the last three years I have been getting a call from a certain gentleman. He’s a wonderful guy,” Simpson said. “Public health used to allow volunteers to drive people to their cancer treatments out of the county.

“And there is a lot of risk involved in that. Risk management stopped it.

“There is still a great issue about people who don’t have reliable cars or family,” Simpson said. “They are low-income. They have cancer. They need treatment out of the county.

“If there’s no way for these people to get a ride out of the county, it’s literally a death sentence.”

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