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St. Lawrence County legislators mull personnel changes

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CANTON — Personnel changes made last year in the heat of a budget dilemma came back to haunt St. Lawrence County legislators Monday.

Lawmakers split over a request from county Emergency Services Director Joseph M. Gilbert to increase a pool of part-time dispatchers to cut down on overtime while Department of Social Services Commissioner Christopher R. Rediehs wanted to hire a caseworker because of an unprecedented need for services.

For Emergency Services, legislators in the Services Committee voted 8-7 to abolish five part-time dispatchers in favor of the creation of one full-time dispatcher and eight part-timers. The approval means one part-time dispatcher will be restored to full-time and the pool of other part-timers is larger.

The full-timer went to part-time status after department heads were told by Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire to cut costs last year but former Emergency Services Director Martin J. Hassett quickly realized that was a mistake, Human Resources Director Christopher S. Boulio said.

Mr. Gilbert said six part-time dispatchers would be adequate as the other two people work only an occasional shift but Civil Service Employees Association did not want to lose the positions. The amount of money spent by the abolishment and creation of positions was a wash at $79,134.

Reworking the schedule along with the personnel changes should cut overtime costs, which are already at $28,000 even though $12,000 was budgeted for the entire year, Mr. Gilbert said.

While the board has been concerned with the structure of the department in the past, some legislators thought the changes premature as an emergency services task force had not officially signed off on them.

“I believe you need to meet with the task force and talk those things through,” Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, said.

For Social Services, legislators agreed 9-6 to fill a caseworker position vacant since last year. The department has also been short-staffed because another caseworker is out on extended medical leave. Meanwhile, the department’s calls to investigate cases of child abuse and neglect were up 15.5 percent in May, Mr. Rediehs said.

It would make more sense to negotiate for current employees to work longer hours than to hire additional help, Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, said.

“We’re only using them 35 hours a week which to me is unheard of,” he said. “I’m trying to find a way to go from 35 to 40 hours a week.”

Legislators tabled a request from Mr. Rediehs on reworking other positions in the department involved with the processing of benefits, child support orders, day care subsidies and participation of clients in job activities.

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