Dan Hust | Democrat
Delaware County Social Services Commissioner Bill Moon, center, spoke with legislators Thursday about replicating his county’s success in providing the homeless with shelter and work. To the left is Legislator Alan Sorensen, while to the right is Sullivan County Health Commissioner Randy Parker. Behind Moon is Deputy Health Commissioner David Sager.
Agencies’ vacancies hurting county, health commissioner warns
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO January 15 New Health Commissioner Randy Parker told legislators Thursday that nearly three dozen vacancies are impacting the county’s ability to timely provide health-related services, file paperwork and make payments to contracted providers.
“Each of these positions are critical to the operation of each department,” he remarked at last week’s Health and Family Services Committee meeting.
The list he provided to legislators showed 15 vacancies in Family Services, 13 in Public Health, five in Community Services and one in the Office for the Aging.
“We are at critical staffing levels in each department,” Parker added. “My recommendation is they need to be filled.”
Legislator Kitty Vetter worried about the financial impact. Though it was stated that these positions are already budgeted for 2013, the county is ostensibly saving money until they are filled.
“I guess I’m asking you to play Solomon,” she said to Parker, referring to a Biblical parable about the ancient king. “... Give us the top group that you need filled now.”
“We have to prioritize,” added Legislator Cora Edwards.
“The greatest need would seem to be in the Dept. of Family Services,” assessed Legislator Cindy Gieger. “You’re down 15.”
Vetter, however, thought her colleagues should take into consideration the number of people each vacant job reaches.
“Some of these positions might impact on 50 people, some on 200 people,” she pointed out. “... What gives us the biggest bang for our buck?”
Legislator Kathy LaBuda suggested Parker return in February with a prioritized list, but Legislator Gene Benson worried that might put the county in jeopardy, should departments continue to struggle to fill needs.
So LaBuda told Parker to return during the January 24 Executive Committee meeting (12:30 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello).
Both Parker and Deputy Health Commissioner David Sager pushed for approval and a bit more independence in filling vacancies.
“Am I going to be able to fill it immediately, or am I going to have to go through a process?” Parker asked.
“There are some very critical positions that have gone unfilled for too long,” Sager added, saying the division’s staffing is “below critical mass.”
“... We budgeted accordingly [to] what we felt was absolutely necessary,” he explained. “We also shaved $1.3 million off our local share at the same time. We’re asking you to please not handcuff us so we can move forward.”
But legislators say they are trying to get a handle on all the vacancies and other personnel matters under their purview.
Earlier Thursday, Legislator Edwards proposed a resolution to let the Legislature “take sufficient time to update… personnel policy issues into a cohesive unit through the Personnel Committee.”
“I spent a good part of last year chasing all the requests that came through the Sheriff’s Office,” Edwards said by way of example. “... I just don’t like the last-minute nature of frantically trying to get paperwork.”
She hopes to consolidate the vacancy discussions into the Personnel Committee, rather than discussing them as they arise in various other committees.
Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson said he’d put it on the discussion agenda for the February 21 Executive Committee.
Plead for ‘humane’ slaughterhouse
Also on Thursday, legislators appeared to agree with Narrowsburg resident Star Hesse that the coming red meat processing plant in Liberty should hew to a Temple Grandin design.
A noted activist, Grandin and her staff have created layouts for slaughterhouses that attempt to kill a meat animal in a more “humane” manner than factory farms.
Hesse has long advocated for such a design (already voluntarily created, in fact) for the Liberty plant, which is likely to break ground this year.
Though Industrial Development Agency (IDA) officials have said the existing design shares similarities with the Grandin plan, Hesse said it’s still not close enough.
“The Grandin slaughter plan is much more humane and much more profitable,” she insisted to legislators Thursday.
After an extended discussion, it was agreed that the Grandin plan designer and the IDA’s engineer will talk further to see what can be done.
Panel meets monthly
The Health and Family Services Review Panel (formerly known as the Social Services Review Panel) will now meet at least monthly through the rest of the year, according to a resolution preliminarily agreed upon by legislators Thursday.
The panel is empowered to make suggestions for improving the social services (and cost thereof) provided by the county.
Helping the homeless
Delaware County’s Social Services commissioner, Bill Moon, paid a visit to legislators Thursday to offer ideas and help in Sullivan County’s ongoing quest to more efficiently and effectively house its homeless.
Moon runs five types of homeless housing in Sullivan’s neighbor to the north, including a seven-bed shelter specifically for Level 3 sex offenders.
Yet due to an aggressive approach that encourages the homeless to seek employment and their own housing, Moon says Delaware’s costs are below $100,000 a year hundreds of thousands of dollars less than in Sullivan, where the homeless are put up in hotels.
“Last night, we were housing less than five people,” he told legislators.
Calling elements of Sullivan County’s approach “stale,” he recommended the county open three to five shelters, using foreclosure-acquired properties.
“My cost is in the $20-$25-a-night range,” Moon related. “... I really believe you should be able to cut your bill in half by the end of the year.”
Moon also runs work crew and training programs for those most in need in Delaware. Though he acknowledged Sullivan’s issues are different and several times larger he expressed confidence that his success could be replicated here, especially since he used to employ Sullivan’s new health commish, Randy Parker.
“We would be glad to share anything we do with you,” Moon affirmed, “and then you can put your own spin on it.”