Yates County staffing cuts could save $242,000

Gwen Chamberlain

Correction: Yates County Clerk Treasurer Julie Betts's name has been corrected in this version.

Charged with finding positions to eliminate in an effort to close a large gap between spending and revenue in the county budget, six department heads have come back with offers that could trim more than $242,584 in personnel costs.

Department heads met with legislators in a special meeting of the finance committee Monday night, and as about 60 people — most county employees — looked on, made the case to keep staffing at current levels.

Most of the cuts will come through attrition, but a part time cleaner will be laid off and three summer help positions in the county highway department will not be filled next year if the legislators adopt the plan discussed during the meeting.

County Clerk Julie Betts declined to offer any staffing cuts, saying statutory responsibilities and mandates make sharing staff between the recording office and the DMV impossible. She also noted the department brings in revenue, and no additional DMV staff have been added since 1970.

Probation Department Director Sharon Dawes also pointed to an increased workload and the anticipation of new requirements in 2012 as reasons to not cut any of the department’s eight positions.

Sheriff Ron Spike offered the most positions and savings, saying he could keep two deputy sheriff positions, a corrections officer and a part time clerk position vacant, saving just over $185,000. He also agreed to reduce his request for $71,500 for patrol cars. This would create a need for $10,000 for more vehicle maintenance, for a net reduction of $61,500.

“I’d rather cut a car than give somebody a pink slip,” he said, adding that he feels the cuts will set the sheriff’s office back 15 years. He said his biggest concern is officer safety. “I really worry about one of my guys getting hurt,” he said, later adding, “I’m trying to be a team player, but it’s hard.”

As the meeting progressed, a handful of employees spoke up to say they would be willing to give something up to help another employee keep a job.

“I understand you need money. It’s time we all step up and give back for having a job. I’m will to give up something and pay it forward,” said Kay Williamson, a recording clerk in the county clerk’s office.

Lois Hall, a clerk in the Department of Motor Vehicles office, echoed Williamson’s comments and Highway Superintendent David Hartman said he’s had workers, including some union members, come to him with offers to consider work sharing or cutting hours.

Finance Committee Chair Tim Dennis replied, “If there’s an effort to be made in that regard, we’re going to need to hear from the appropriate agencies soon.”

Directing his attention to CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Renee Chichester,  Legislative Chairman Taylor Fitch said, “Several have offered to give back. Is there any way that can be done?”

Chichester said she can’t make any commitments without discussing issues with the CSEA Regional Director and Regional President. “Just sitting there running the numbers, if we give back the 2.8 (percent raise agreed in the last contract negotiation), it won’t get you where you need to get to save the five people.”

She did tell County Administrator Sarah Purdy that the two would probably be talking this week. “I’d be delighted,” replied Purdy.

The legislators did not come to any concrete conclusion, deciding by consensus to see where talks with union members might go. “I’d like to give the CSEA a chance to step up to the plate,” said Purdy.

Purdy said she may need to have more time to work on the budget later this week if progress can be made with the union representatives. Her original plan called for presenting her final budget to legislators on Oct. 21.

“It strikes me that that’s a more humane way to get the dollar reductions that are needed,” she said.

Dennis said he agrees with the approach, but noted CSEA concessions “won’t get us all the way there. Nobody wants to see somebody lose their job, but I’ve heard from folks that there is suffering going on in the citizenry and any tax increase is going to be difficult to take.”

Following the meeting, some CSEA members lingered outside the meeting room and said they are concerned that the union is being put in a position to look like “the bad guys.”

Local union president Joy Jensen said she has to see the numbers before she’ll take a position, but she also noted if she could afford a cut, she might consider it. She also pointed out that CSEA workers are members of the community as well, paying local property taxes and contributing to the local economy.