CANTON St. Lawrence County officials are trying to streamline government while still providing essential services.
Legislators on Monday approved hiring three laborers to fill vacant positions and authorized a reorganization in the Department of Social Services that comes with a net loss of two positions.
In both cases, department heads said they needed staff to complete work. The county has eliminated 103 positions over the last three years.
I dont have enough people, Highway Superintendent Toby W. Bogart said. I know I definitely need laborers.
Mr. Bogart convinced lawmakers to fill the positions, which are already part of this years budget. The department had 17 laborers from 2007 to 2010, 15 in 2011 and has 11 this year, including the open positions. Without the laborers, employees in higher pay grades will act as flaggers, Mr. Bogart said. The county is also behind on mowing the roadside of some of its 580 miles.
Only a handful of towns contract with the county to mow its roads. Some have scaled back personnel in their own departments and cannot take on additional work, Mr. Bogart said.
Others, such as Gouverneur, do not have larger equipment and would have to make double passes, Legislator Donald A. Peck, D-Gouverneur, said.
Mowing the roadsides is a safety issue and bridges need to be washed so they last longer, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said.
Legislator Vernon D. Sam Burns, D-Ogdensburg, questioned whether the department was top-heavy at the mid-level.
Are we not taking the opportunity to balance things out? he asked.
Some legislators did not like the idea of hiring if the countys budget situation for next year requires layoffs.
However, Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said the Highway Department would likely not be a target.
We have significantly cut the Highway Department, she said. I think wed look other places first.
Ultimately, legislators decided the department had work that needed to be done.
Were not creating new positions, Legislator Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, said. We do need to maintain our roads.
In Social Services, legislators reorganized jobs that handle benefits, employment counseling, and accounting, losing two positions.
We have seen the desire of the board, Commissioner Christopher R. Rediehs said. We are challenged, but it allows us to function in a way I think will work.
The county had considered moving Youth Director Joanne Sevick into an employment counselor position in Social Services and eliminating the Youth Department. However, it discovered that with more than 25,000 youths, the county was required to have a youth director with that title if it wanted to keep its eligibility for $134,000 that is funneled to various county groups, Ms. St. Hilaire said.