September 18, 2014

Elyria
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14 jobs in jeopardy as Children Services looks to reduce budget by $900K

ELYRIA — Up to 14 jobs could be eliminated by Lorain County Children Services in the coming year as part of budget cuts expected to total up to $900,000.

The agency’s board voted Wednesday in a short meeting to authorize the action based on figures in a report given by William Harper, who chairs the agency’s finance committee.

“This is very devastating,” Children Services board director Barbara Kilgore said after the meeting.

The cuts are deemed necessary as a result of increased costs, reduced state and federal funding, and an anticipated drop of $684,000 in tax revenue produced by the agency’s five-year 1.5-mill operating levy.

The expected loss of tax levy revenue is from decreased property values stemming from this year’s county-wide property reappraisal, according to Harper.

The 2012 reappraisal saw property values decline about 8 percent across the county.

Last passed in November 2010, the agency’s 1.5-mill replacement levy generates about $9.7 million annually and accounts for more than half of Lorain County Children Services’ total yearly budget of roughly $16.1 million.

The levy is expected to generate about $8.9 million in 2013 due to the countywide reappraisal, according to spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett.

Combined with federal and state money, which constitutes about 40 percent of the annual budget, the agency’s revenues are expected to total roughly $15.3 million next year, Burtnett said.

The agency employs 130 people, of whom an estimated 75 to 80 are unionized, according to Burtnett.

Harper said the positions to be eliminated will be administrative and staff personnel.

“Both will have to be in the mix,” Harper said, alluding to previous cuts.

Over the past few years, Children Services has reduced its staff by about 15 workers and trimmed more than $3 million from its budget.

A dozen or more of the agency’s employees attended the meeting.

Understandably, word of the pending cuts did not sit well.

“When will we know about these cuts taking effect?” caseworker Laura Stevenson asked. “We are entering the holidays with this hanging over our heads.

“We want to know what the process is for deciding this, and whether we will come back next year to see 14 people lose their jobs in the first weeks of January.”

A timetable for when specific job cuts will be decided and announced has yet to be determined, officials said.

“Our main focus has and will remain the children and direct services,” Kilgore said.

Direct services include investigations, foster care, adoptions and protective care.

The agency was handling 485 cases as of Dec. 3, according to figures provided by Harper.

Asked whether caseworkers’ jobs would be given top priority in terms of being spared from cuts, Kilgore said “they are our main focus. We want to find the best way we can so as not to do any harm to direct services.”

“These cuts should get us through the next couple of years, assuming everything else remains the same,” Harper said.

The agency employs 132 people, of whom 90 are unionized, according to Burtnett.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.