County’s health division to fill 30 vacant positions
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO February 5, 2013 - Legislators agreed on Thursday to fill 54 of 55 budgeted vacant positions in county government.
Thirty of those positions are in the Division of Health and Family Services, ranging from social welfare examiners to registered nurses to home health aides.
The rest are seasonal Division of Public Works employees who will be hired in the warmer months.
The only position not to get approved was an open deputy sheriff’s spot, which Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson said doesn’t yet have a candidate.
Legislators have been cautiously agreeing to fill individual vacancies, even though those positions are budgeted for 2013. Frustrated by the patchwork approach, several have pushed for an official policy.
That, in fact, was why Thursday’s special meeting was called, but it took the better part of the hour-and-a-half gathering before Samuelson handed out a proposal for his colleagues to review.
• Having vacancy requests submitted no later than the third Tuesday of every month, to be addressed in the Executive Committee on the third Thursday of every month.
• Attaching each request to a fact sheet.
• Ensuring a departmental representative is available at the Executive Committee meeting to answer questions.
• Addressing emergency issues on a case-by-case basis.
Such an emergency exists in the Department of Family Services, indicated Health and Family Services Commissioner Randy Parker on Thursday.
Inundated with social services clients, his employees are overwhelmed, Parker explained, and he asked not just for the filling of the 30 positions that were ultimately approved but also pre-approval to fill essential line staff vacancies the rest of this year and next. (He defined line staff as “staff that interact with the public and handle critical health and safety determinations.”)
Lives of struggling county residents are at stake, he argued.
“Without DFS [Dept. of Family Services] in those situations, they may die,” Parker warned.
Money’s at stake, too.
Community Services Director Joe Todora acknowledged that there’s enough of a backlog some sources say it’s more than a year that billing errors aren’t being corrected, and thus state reimbursement is lost.
“We’ve got about a 20 percent error rate, and it goes down if I have the staff to do it,” he said.
“Your county share is highly dependent on how much work we do and how much billing gets done,” Todora explained of state and federal reimbursements.
Legislator Kitty Vetter wondered if some jobs could be contracted out, but Legislator Gene Benson warned that the labor unions would likely grieve any outsourcing.
“It’s irrelevant, because your collective bargaining agreement prevails,” replied County Manager David Fanslau, referring to the union contracts which prohibit such outsourcing.
Still, County Auditor Angela Chevalier indicated it’s good for legislators to pay attention to vacancies.
“Just because it’s budgeted doesn’t mean it’s in your bank,” she noted, speaking of cash flow.
Legislator Cora Edwards asked for an update on that cash flow but didn’t get one almost withholding her approval of the vacancies as a result.
But Grahamsville resident Ken Walter used the public comment period to criticize what he feels is a nitpicking attitude by some legislators, wasting far too much time.
“I’m getting tired of watching people come in here with hat in hand, asking to fill a position,” he lamented. “... Let’s get on with it come up with a real short policy and let these positions be filled!”