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MAHONING COUNTY Commissioners prepare for layoffs



Published: Fri, November 5, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



Current commissioners aren't likely to pass a permanent budget for 2005.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners aren't wasting time getting ready to issue pink slips to employees in the wake of voters' rejection of a county sales-tax renewal this week.

The board is expected to consider a resolution at its meeting Tuesday authorizing a work-force reduction for employees whose departments are totally or partially under commissioners' control, said Connie Pierce, human resources director.

Auditor George Tablack said that's a good start, but it's "only a drop in the bucket" of what needs done to address the county's anticipated debt of more than $14 million next year.

Tablack said commissioners must approve a permanent 2005 budget before the end of this year so other department heads will know their financial situations and be able to take steps of their own to reduce staff.

"Each month that we delay will result in more layoffs," Tablack said.

By law, commissioners must pass a budget by April 1. But Tablack said if they wait that long, officeholders will have to wait longer to make cuts and layoffs. And the longer the cuts are delayed, the more people will have to be laid off to balance the budget by the end of the year.

Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said the board agrees that steps must be taken now, but she believes a temporary budget is good enough to get the ball rolling for all departments.

"Let's be frank, those other officeholders saw the results the election," Sherlock said. "They know that money isn't going to be available."

Sales tax

A 0.5-percent sales tax, which Tablack said brings in about $14 million a year, will expire Dec. 31. Commissioners asked voters to renew it Tuesday as a continuing measure, but it was defeated by about 1,600 votes. Commissioners have said massive layoffs and program cuts will be made to help make up for the loss of revenue.

Sherlock and Commissioner Ed Reese are leaving office at the end of the year because their terms will expire and neither sought re-election. Both have said they favor passing a temporary budget for the first quarter of next year and letting the new commissioners approve a permanent budget next year.

Tablack said Friday that he wants them to reconsider and pass a permanent budget, but Sherlock and Reese said they aren't inclined to do that unless otherwise advised by the prosecutor's office, which is the commissioners' legal counsel.

"We are aware of the situation, and we will do what is responsible," Sherlock said. "Layoffs have been made in the past based on a temporary budget. I don't see why this is any different."

Mahoning County has not had a full-time budget director since Elizabeth Sublette resigned in March to take a private sector job. Budgeting work is handled primarily by Pierce and Joseph Caruso, assistant county administrator.

What's ahead

Pierce said Tuesday's action will be the first step toward layoffs for workers under the commissioners' umbrella. Ohio's civil service law requires that such a resolution be passed before any workers are furloughed, she said.

"We don't know yet exactly how many will be laid off or what departments they will come from," Pierce said. The anticipated layoffs could affect workers in facilities management, personnel, purchasing, emergency management, 911, special projects, accounts payable, child support enforcement and the commissioners' office.

Sheriff Randall Wellington announced Friday that he will furlough 31 intermittent deputies Sunday. They are full-time deputies who work on a temporary basis and are paid less than permanent deputies.

Wellington said an additional 120 full-time deputies will be laid off, with a possible effective date of Dec. 19. All remaining deputies will be reassigned from other duties to work in the jail.

Road patrols will be eliminated, the record room at the jail will operate on restricted hours, serving of court papers will be cut down to one day a week and deputies will be pulled from task forces.

When asked if the layoffs would mean that deputies would be taken out of the sheriff's satellite stations in Canfield, Greenford and Ellsworth, Wellington replied, "Certainly."

bjackson@vindy.com




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