County workforce increases following layoffs

Finance and Personnel Committee

Oswego County Deputy Clerk of Operations Matt Bacon (right) holds one of the more recently created positions in county government. In the foreground is Legislator Dan Chalifoux, who serves as the vice-chairman of the Legislature’s Finance and Personnel Committee.

by Carol Thompson

Each month, Oswego County Personnel Director Carol Alnutt presents a report to members of the legislature’s Finance and Personnel Committee with the total number of vacancies within the county’s workforce and the amount of savings reaped from not filling those positions.

County officials boast a savings of nearly $1.8 million last year, which is attributed to unfilled vacancies.

But are the numbers misleading?

County government faced a severe budget crisis early in the decade and at the Dec. 18, 2003 meeting, more than 300 positions were cut and a hiring freeze enacted.

It was a decision made by then-County Administrator Steve Lyman, who was hired Feb. 24, 2003 to replace Jack Tierney. Legislators, faced with the largest property tax increase in decades, had no choice but to downsize the workforce.

The number of county employees as of January 2003 was at 1,310. Faced with a $23 million deficit in the reserve fund, a decision was also made in 2004 to sell the county-owned Michaud Nursing Home, further reducing the workforce by dozens.

By 2006, as the county began to rebound from its financial woes, the number of employees was down to 1,018.

While legislators continue to boast vacancy savings, the county workforce numbers have crept back up to 1,158 as of Sept. 18.

As the vacant position remain unfilled, new positions have been created. Vacancies include positions that were never refilled and those due to promotions, retirement and death.

The county clerk’s office has added two new positions with a deputy clerk of operations and a senior index clerk. The Department of Social Services has added caseworkers, the result of a critical report from the New York State Health Department.

A field coordinator position was added to the Emergency Management Department and an assistant engineer was added to the Highway Department. The position of jail administrator was restored in 2004 at a current salary of $75,687.

For 2011, the total county payroll was $44 million, or 23 percent of the 2011 budget, without benefits, according to county figures. The total with benefits accounted for approximately 34 percent of the 2011 budget.

County Administrator Phil Church said there are a few reasons why employee head counts are greater now than a few years ago.

“The primary reason is the hiring of several full-time child protective workers after the Erin Maxwell case,” he said, referring to the State Health Department report that was issued following the death of the 11-year old Town of Palermo girl.

“Another reason has nothing to do with hiring new positions; instead, we improved the way part-time stipend positions are accounted for,” Church added. “Such positions were not always part of the employee count a few years ago.”

Church said another reason for the head count increase is that there are more stipend positions.

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