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WEST CHESTER – Chester County commissioners announced Wednesday the layoffs of 30 employees in three county departments in a move expected to save county taxpayers about $2 million.
According to a county press-release, the layoffs – referred to as an “organizational streamlining” – came in the departments of Facilities & Parks, Human Services, and Emergency Services.
A reaction to mounting budget woes, the commissioners saidthe layoffs are also part of a wider plan to reduce county staffing levels while retaining the delivery of needed services.
“We know that this does have real impact on people’s lives,” said commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell on Wednesday as he was returning to West Chester from the annual convention of the National Association of Counties in Pittsburgh. “But we see this as a matter of fiscal responsibility that necessitated we take this kind of action.”
Like others, Chester County has seen a drop in both the amount of revenue it can collect from local property taxes and a deep reduction in what it gets from state and federal sources since the economic meltdown of 2008.
“When the tax base was increasing and the reimbursements from Harrisburg were at a high level, we did not have these kind of layoffs,” Farrell said. “But we are faced with the reality we face now and we have to deal with that.”
Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone, also in an interview Wednesday, said the loss of tax revenue and state funding, while unfortunate, gave the county the opportunity to examine its overall budget and find savings in personnel levels. The county has a budget of about $422 million.
“It always is a good idea to do this (reduction),” Cozzone said. “We have to reduce spending. We had to find savings. We have to continue to look for ways to provide essential services to people in the most efficient and costs effective ways.”
But, Cozzone added, the commissioners were determined not to affectthe level of its public services, even if they are a part of those departments targeted for reductions.
“It is important that we continue to these vital services,” she said.
In their release, the commissioners acknowledged state budget cuts were one reason for the layoffs.
“This move is a result of continuing efforts to review, reorganize, streamline and improve efficiencies in the delivery of services, particularly those services impacted by cuts in the 2012-2013 state budget and significant reductions in the limited 911 reimbursement money received by the Department of Emergency Services,” the release stated.
This streamlining was undertaken with the involvement of the heads of all three departments, and the changes will not compromise core essential services, the release stated. The estimated annual savings to the county is more than $2 million - $790,000 in Human Services, $665,000 in Emergency Services and $590,000 in Facilities & Parks.
The commissioners are expected to approve the layoffs next week.
Commissioner Ryan Costello stressed that all essential life-saving and training services at DES will continue, and that no park will lose its superintendent. Nor will the county close any facility.
But he added that the commissioners would continue to examine cost savings in the future as the budget process proceeds.
“We will revisit this issue. I feel you always have to push department heads to provide services at a reduced cost,” Costello said.
Those county employees losing their jobs came mostly from the ranks of administrative and clerical personnel, but also included the director of the former Parks Department, John Mikowychok, whose department was merged with the Facilities Department in 2010. He had worked for the county for 10 years and earned $103,592 before being laid off.
Human Services, the department that receives perhaps the most significant amount of funding from the state, took the largest hit – 13 employees in all: seven in the Department of Aging; two in the Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities; three in the Department of Children Youth & Families; and one that covers the overall Department of Human Services and Children Youth & Families.
In addition, two positions in the county Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities will move from full time to part time.
County spokeswoman Rebecca Brain, speaking on behalf of Human Services Director Ruth E. Kranz-Carl, said the department had fashioned the personnel losses so they did not come from the caseworkers and counselors who provide direct care to the public.
“The commissioners had asked that those positions on the front lines, so to speak, not be compromised in any way,” Brain said.
The next largest cut came in Emergency Services, which will lose 10 employees, again from clerical and administrative positions and not the call takers and radio dispatchers who deal most directly with the public and emergency responders such as police, fire, and ambulance services.
The seven layoffs in the Facilities & Parks Department came exclusively from the county’s parks department.
Steve Fromnick, the department director, said those involved had taken the reductions “very professionally.
“The decision to move them had nothing to do with performance,” he said Wednesday. “”It had to do with the budget. We do not expect that these moves will affect the services provided within our parks organization.”
Farrell agreed with his colleagues that the layoffs were regrettable, but also that they may not be the final drop of the shoe.
“We are in the budget process. I am hopeful they will be the last reductions in force this year,” Farrell said. “But, as I say, it is an ongoing budget process.”
Follow Michael P. Rellahan on Twitter @ChescoCourtNews