Charleston County has been leaning on temporary employees since the economic downturn, but 69 of them now will join the ranks of full-time permanent staffers who are eligible for benefits.

County Council last week approved making the employees permanent with a 6-3 vote, a move that delighted the majority of council members. Others raised concerns about whether bringing them on on a permanent basis represented sound business practices, however, and whether county administrators made the change in their status in reaction to the Affordable Care Act.

Vic Rawl, who supported the move, said it’s really not employees that are being made permanent, it’s positions.

The county hired some temporary workers during and in the aftermath of the economic downturn, he said. Making the 69 positions permanent simply is a way for the county to move back to its standard way of doing business.

But Joe Qualey said that the initial documents provided by county staffers mentioned that these employees soon would be eligible for health benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Qualey said the county isn’t required to comply with the act until 2015. Making the employees permanent will cost about $1 million each year, he said. This isn’t how a private business would respond, he said. “Charleston County should be run like a private enterprise.”

Rawl said he doesn’t think making the employees permanent has anything to do with the act, and administrators shouldn’t have brought that issue into the discussion. “This is not political,” he said. It’s simply about the county creating the positions it needs to run efficiently.

Colleen Condon said the jobs that are being made permanent include custodians and public works employees, jobs that are not temporary or seasonal in nature. “They should be entitled to all benefits,” Condon said.

Dickie Schweers, who also voted against the plan, said most businesses have temporary employees on their staffs. That saves on the cost of benefits and gives employers time to evaluate an employee’s performance to see if he or she should be hired full time.

Charleston County now has 213 temporary employees, according to report from county staff. It has a policy to keep employees on a temporary basis for only a year, but 61 of them have been employed on a temporary basis for at least four years.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.