Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 8, 2013

Officeholders meet to go over budget cuts

By RORYE O’CONNOR
rorye.oconnor@register-news.com

MT. VERNON — Staffing cuts to county offices will reduce their efficiency and make waits longer, said officeholders on Monday.

Jefferson County officeholders met with County Board Chairman Robert White to go over the cuts to the budget made in light of the loss of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees in early December.

The staff cuts due to the reduced income to the county include one laid-off position in the treasurer’s office; one position reduced to 32 hours at Animal Control; one layoff and one non-renewal in the state’s attorney’s office; two layoffs in the circuit clerk’s office; 28 layoffs, including four deputies, 23 correctional officers and one dispatcher position, and four non-renewals in the sheriff’s office; two non-replacements in the circuit clerk and recorder’s office; and one layoff in the office of the supervisor of assessments.

The layoffs are effective between Jan. 25 and 28.

“The 45 days notice is a benefit for the employees who have been laid off,” said Board Chairman Robert White. “For the county, we couldn’t get an immediate savings. If we get ICE back, that’s still an expense we can’t get back.”

White said the question he’s heard from everyone is whether the cuts are permanent. He said he hopes the situation can be reversed by reestablishing the housing of ICE detainees at the Jefferson County Justice Center, and that the issues can be resolved by the next full board meeting Jan. 28.

White added that if the county is unable to reestablish the ICE detainees’ housing in Jefferson County, then the cuts made would be “status quo” moving forward.

County Clerk John Scott said there have always been nine employees in his office and that the workload has done nothing but increase through the years, meaning the loss of two positions in his office will affect everyone.

“People are gonna have to wait longer, and they aren’t going to like it,” said County Clerk and Recorder Connie Simmons.

Treasurer Dan Knox said his office is fortunate that they are not currently in the midst of tax season. He said his office’s efficiency will be slowed down by the loss of an employee.

Animal Control director Martin Boykin said he is having to work more hours to offset the reduced hours of the position affected.

“It’s a longer timeframe to report to each call, for us to show up and take care of the problem,” he said. “It could result in a liability to the county if a situation is a danger to the public.”

Steve Lueker, supervisor of assessments, said he will do what it takes to get through “this mess,” but that he would have to work many extra hours to do so.

State’s Attorney Doug Hoffman said he will be forced to move his victim and witness coordinator to clerical work, meaning that employee will spend less time working with victims and answering their questions.

Sheriff Roger Mulch said the public needs to know the losses to the office will “tear us apart.”

“Our response time is going to be down,” he said. “We went through this six years ago and we survived.”

ICE officials temporarily relocated the immigration detainees housed at the Jefferson County Justice Center to other facilities due to shortages in the medical staffing levels at the jail, said Gail Montenegro, ICE public affairs Chicago, in an e-mail in December.

Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch said many of the issues have been due to difficulties in keeping the jail staffed with part-time nurses. He said a specific, repeated paperwork issue led to ICE moving to withdraw its detainees.

He said the notes on detainees’ medical history were not filled out at least three times when an ICE liaison pulled paperwork to check it.

Capt. Randy Pollard said during an independent investigation, he pulled random files going back six months, and half the time they were not filled out correctly.

Mulch said he plans to put checkpoints in place, among other measures, to prevent the clerical errors from happening again.

White asked how long Mulch knew there was a “pervasive problem,” to which he said he know there were some problems being addressed about a month before the detainees were removed from the jail. However, Pollard said the ICE program at the jail didn’t feel threatened until Dr. Robert Parks tendered his resignation, and a grievance was filed from a detainee about the jails’ healthcare.

White said the situation was uncomfortable for him because the county has to invest money in the medical services to be up to ICE’s standards, but it is at the mercy of ICE’s timing.

“I don’t know if this is a curse or an opportunity losing these detainees,” White said. “... At this point now, there’s all this uncertainty.”

Treasurer Dan Knox asked White if there are more cuts to come.

White said there is still a $500,000 gap in the budget, but there is money from last year coming in that will narrow that gap. Later he added that no more cuts will be made to any elected official’s budget except for the sheriff’s office.

Currently, the county has received one viable bid for medical services at the JCJC, White said.

Mulch said he understands that ICE could reestablish the detainee population at the jail within 48 hours if the medical issues are resolved.

Pollard said there is still a lot to be implemented before the jail will meet ICE’s 2008 standards.

“Personnel is a major problem,” he said.

White said the county is behind the curve badly in terms of how much revenue is brought in per person.

“It’s imperative for the board to make a sound decision whether to bring back ICE,” he said. “We need to get the bed rate more in line.”