Fulton County panel looks to ax vacant jobs

Nine vacant positions across five different county departments are on the chopping block under a rec

Nine vacant positions across five different county departments are on the chopping block under a recommendation made Thursday by the county’s Finance Committee.

The full Board of Supervisors will vote on the cuts Nov. 14. Eliminating the positions would help pare down the county’s 2012 tax levy to within 3.76 percent, as required by the state tax cap.

After more than two hours of executive session Thursday morning to discuss employee history, the Finance Committee took only 10 minutes to approve the recommendation.

The positions at stake are: a senior probation officer in the Probation Department; two deputies and an investigator in the Sheriff’s Department; a typist and two caseworkers in the Social Services Department; an account clerk in the Treasurer’s Office; and a part-time position in the Youth Bureau.

“I don’t think we’re where anybody wants to be at this point,” said committee member Gregory Fagan. “But what’s left are big decisions that we need the full board to vote on. We’ve gotten [the budget] down quite a ways, but the last few steps there will be kicking and screaming to get there.”

Some of the positions have remained vacant ever since county supervisors implemented a hiring freeze Aug. 8. The rest will be newly vacant as employees soon retire.

Probation Department Director Michael Kirkpatrick said one of his current senior probation officers is retiring at the end of next week and the position will become vacant Oct. 31.

When the county implemented the hiring freeze, Kirkpatrick said he inquired whether he would be able to promote a probation officer to that position so he could retain a senior officer. He couldn’t confirm how much each salary was, but he said the difference in salary, including fringe benefits, between the two positions came to about $3,900.

“I’d like to be upset about it,” he said. “But they’re in a rough position right now and certainly the state is not helping them. They are trying to save any place and every place that they can. And from what I’ve been hearing, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the next two or three years.”

Unfortunately for his staff and for the county, Kirkpatrick said, the state has been decreasing reimbursement funding for the department for the last 20 years while increasing unfunded mandates. The Probation Department is now required to monitor conditional discharges, for example, which added about 60 people to the department’s caseload.

The county Treasurer’s Office currently employs nine people.

The Youth Bureau, Sheriff’s and Social Services Department did not return calls for comment Thursday.

The Sheriff’s Department currently has four vacant positions, and Sheriff Thomas Lorey said last week he wanted to see them all retained. At an Oct. 13 budget review committee meeting, he said the department has been barely getting by on the few employees it has left after years of attrition.

“Our recommendation is that these positions be eliminated in November and we move forward on this resolution, rather than wait until Jan. 1,” said committee member John Callery. “Because either way it’s the same tax levy result.”

The committee brought a potential tax levy increase in the range of 40 percent down to 21.6 percent with various accounting changes, most notably counting on the sale by March 31 of the county-run nursing home, a money-losing operation.

It brought the increase down to 15.2 percent Thursday after approving additional budget adjustments to the Public Health and Social Services departments, as well as the general fund. The savings from eliminating the nine jobs is not factored in yet, because the move has not been approved by the full board. There is no estimate yet on how much savings the job cuts would provide.

Whether the county will use a portion of its fund balance — currently between $6 million and $7 million — to further reduce the tax levy increase will be up to the full Board of Supervisors, Callery said.

The state mandated a 2 percent property tax cap on local governments earlier this year, sending Fulton County supervisors into frenzied action to balance the 2012 budget.

But because of allowable exclusions based on pension costs and retirement rates, among other things, Fulton County can still meet the cap requirements with a tax hike of up to 3.76 percent, said Budget Director Alice Kuntzsch.

A recommended budget will be presented to the full board Nov. 14. Supervisors will then decide when to hold a public hearing. Typically, a budget workshop is held one week after the board meeting, and a public hearing one week after that.

Categories: Schenectady County

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