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St. Lawrence County legislators add and cut staff

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators increased staff in the county clerk’s office Tuesday after threatening to slash jobs and close satellite offices, cut one position in Probation, and then eased up on the Planning Office, whose staff offered to take furloughs to save their jobs and the Youth Bureau, which had faced elimination.

Legislators came into the discussion about the clerk’s office considering the closure of satellite offices in Gouverneur, Massena and Ogdensburg, and the possible elimination of three employees, to the consternation of County Clerk Mary Lou Rupp, to help lower a projected 20 percent tax levy increase.

The clerk’s office makes money for the county, mostly through its business handling downstate dealer registrations. For 2013, Mrs. Rupp projected the Department of Motor Vehicles would generate $1.7 million above its costs.

“I don’t know how the staff does what it does now. Less people is less revenue. It’s as simple as that,” Mrs. Rupp said. “I just want it to be noted that when revenue drops, it’s not on me. It’s on you.”

Closing the satellites would mean losing many local transactions as residents likely would mail what they could to Albany rather than drive to Canton, Mrs. Rupp said.

Rather than cut staff, legislators, by a vote of 8-6, with Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, not yet at the meeting, instead decided to have Mrs. Rupp hire two clerks to build on the downstate business. Mrs. Rupp estimated each additional staff member could mean a revenue increase of $100,000.

“If we add people and it doesn’t make revenue, then it is on you,” said Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena. “This is actually trying to reduce the budget through revenue.”

In Probation, legislators cut one senior probation officer through attrition, although it probably will mean longer waits for presentence investigations which could put pressure on the county jail population.

Total cuts in Probation came to $79,788.

Legislators chose not to cut staff in Planning but will shift the salaries of Director Keith J. Zimmerman, who is also interim IT director, and John F. Tenbusch, who is working primarily on a software conversion project, into departments eligible for state and federal reimbursement. Legislators charged the staff with coming up with a fee schedule on project reviews and work done for municipalities and companies.

Staff in the office, which has lost three positions over the last three years, also volunteered for rolling furloughs if need be.

“I think it’s a brave offer,” Mr. Parker said. “It’s a step in the right direction and a model for the rest of the county.”

Legislators made no cuts to the Youth Bureau.

Director Joanne Sevick, the department’s sole employee, told legislators cutting her job would mean a loss of $62,000 in programs that serve more than 30,000 youngsters.

“This money would not come into our county without the department. You’re mandated to have a director,” she said. “I think it really gets down to a value issue. Our youth in this county have very little to do.”

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