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Commissioners, JFS to review uses of surplus

The Lawrence County Commission, officials with the Lawrence County Job and Family Services and members of the two unions that represent that office’s employees will meet Tuesday to work out a disagreement over how to spend surplus money the agency has.

Last fall 12 employees at that agency were laid off because of budget cuts.

The remainder of the staff agreed to concessions to prevent more layoffs; the concessions included forgoing a raise, giving up a sick day incentive and taking two cost savings, or furlough days a month.

But recently JFS Director Gene Myers informed both employees and the county commission he had gotten approximately $86,000 in one-time funding and suggested that, beginning April 1, the agency discontinue the cost savings days through the end of the fiscal year.

He sent a memo to the two unions that represent his employees, AFSCME Local 3319 B, which represents the Child Support Enforcement Agency and AFSCME Local 3319A, which represents the JFS workers, asking them to agree to the suggested change.

The CSEA union agreed; the JFS union did not. Thursday, members of the JFS union went to the Lawrence County Commission meeting to protest Myers’ plan.

“There are people on layoff trying to get back to work,” JFS union president Terri Robinson told the commission. She and JFS worker Tonya Malone pointed out that staff was limited given the layoffs. Those remaining want those laid off to come back and shoulder the work load.

“There are clients being served. It’s killing us but they are being served,” Robinson said. “We have people not taking lunches, people not taking breaks.”

“I would like to have people come back,” Myers said after the meeting. “The problem is, it is one-time money.”

Myers said the agency managed to save approximately $50,000 in unemployment costs because some of the people who were laid off found a job elsewhere and some people left for personal reasons, allowing a couple of people who were laid off to return to work.

His agency did get $36,000 in one-time stimulus money. And therein is his problem, he said. These funds are one-time funds. He will not have this money next fiscal year.

If he uses this money to rehire someone who has been laid off, once the money is gone, he would have to lay off that person again and pay that person’s unemployment.

Myers said it would cost approximately $98,000 to bring back a person from lay off. It would cost approximately $68,000 to restore the cost savings day.

“I understand your plight,” Commissioner Doug Malone said told the JFS employees. “We need to do this back and forth Tuesday where we can sit and talk for two or three hours.”

Commissioner Jason Stephens agreed.

“I’d like to see the numbers and understand the numbers. That’s what we’ll be allowed to do,” Stephens said.

Commissioner Les Boggs pointed out the irony in the situation: Back when the news was bad everyone pulled together; now that the news has improved, people are fighting.

Boggs wanted to know if the memorandum of understanding signed last year by the county and the union precludes bringing back management. The commission asked the prosecutor’s office for an opinion. The prosecutor’s office asked for more information to make an informed opinion.

That office has requested a copy of the union/agency contract and a copy of the memorandum of understanding.