DJFS layoffs announced

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – After two months of meetings, Belmont County Commissioners concluded a lengthy executive session Thursday with the announcement that cuts to government funding have necessitated the abolishment of a total of nine union positions and six management positions from the Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services.

These include the posts of budget officer, eligibility referral supervisor, clerical supervisor, administrative assistant, public information specialist, IM aide, DDU case manager, day care case manager, two OWF case managers, nursing home case manager, coordinator, and two PA case managers.

The union contract allows those with seniority occupying the positions to displace those with less seniority.

DJFS has projected deficiency in funding to maintain current staffing levels as a result of funding cuts. The layoffs will be effective Jan. 19.

In addition, the work week of the director and all full-time permanent exempt employees will be reduced from 40 to 35 hours with pro-rated adjustment in their bi-weekly pay to maintain their respective same per hour rates in pay, effective Jan. 19 and continuing through June 30, 2013, when the commissioners will again review the fiscal situation.

Commissioners approved the resolution with a vote of 2-1, with Commissioner Matt Coffland dissenting.

Director Dwayne Pielech said many other DJFS programs in the state are facing similar problems. The fiscal year they received a significant cut in income maintenance funding, including public assistance. He noted the board had to take action to reorganize.

“At the end of the day and at the beginning of the day, it’s about serving families and children and that’s why we do what we do, but we have to live within our budget,” he said.

This June will see the adoption of the two-year budget. Pielech said a cut of $1 million was called for, based on current information.

“We’re hoping that we’ve been able to go aggressively enough to be able to meet the demand of the needs of less funding,” he said.

He pointed out that the resolution will result in a savings of about $1 million in operations costs. He added that about three years ago the department began looking for cost-cutting methods in services and operational activities. No further cuts could be made to those fields.

“It has to come from salaries and wages and staffing,” he said. “We hope that this will be the last of what we need to do, at least in the foreseeable future, not knowing what the next bi-annual budget will be.”

To maintain services to public assistance clients, Pielech said that simultaneous to the abolishment of the positions the department will adopt a system of case banking. This will entail a more extensive use of technology. Eventually, he expects services to be fully automated, but initially, case managers will no longer be responsible for a specific division of cases. Clients on public assistance will call in and whoever is on shift will take the call and address the issue.

“All the workers will serve all the public,” Pielech said. “You bank the cases.”

He added that this was the only course of action considering the increase of people in need of services and the loss of service providers.

“There’s going to be a learning curve and a training curve, but we’re confident,” he said. “As we’re making these significant changes in staffing, we need to introduce this different way of doing business.”

He added that DJFS is almost entirely federally and state funded. Their local funds consist of the children’s services levy of $300,000.

Commissioner Charles R. Probst, Jr. commended Pielech, his managers and staff for their efforts to protect jobs and save funds through other means.

“This is something the commission and DJFS hate to do, but it’s come to this point where the cuts have become too much,” he said. “We had to move to save $1 million to save the agency.”

Probst noted that the original proposal would have cut more than 20 positions.

Coffland said he believed the cuts were deeper than the needed to be without knowing what decisions will come from the state and federal level. He leveled a sharp criticism of the governor and state policies.

“I believe we have a governor bragging about his rainy day funds at the cost of our families and our jobs,” Coffland said. “That’s why I voted against it. Someone has to send a message that this cannot continue.”

Commissioners will re-convene Jan. 8 at 10 a.m. for another executive session dealing with matters of personnel.

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