JEFFERSON — The $1 million cut from 2009 general-fund appropriations by Ashtabula County commissioners 10 days ago is playing out as job cuts, wage reductions and shuttered offices.

Commissioners Peggy Carlo, Daniel Claypool and Joseph Moroski have taken 20 percent pay cuts. Two employees under the commissioners’ budget were laid off last week.

Budget work sessions with Judge Charles Hague, Prosecutor Thomas Sartini and the Board of Elections have been ongoing since the cuts were announced as both sides look for ways to live with the new reality. The county did receive some relatively good “bad news” in the sales tax receipts figure for February. While the number was down from last year, it did not tumble to its projected level.

Nevertheless, decreased sales-tax and interest income will continue to make this a challenging year, and elected officials are taking steps to live within the reduced appropriations.

Recorder Judith Barta said her staff of five started the year working 72-hour two-week pay periods as commissioners asked elected officials to slim down spending in anticipation of falling revenues. Barta said the staff was cut another eight hours per pay period, or to 32 hours per week, with the latest round of reductions.

That works out to each employee having one unpaid day a week, except Barta, who did not take any reductions.

“I pick up the slack,” she says. “I work whatever is necessary: weekends, nights.”

Barta said her staff people, who are not under a bargaining agreement, decided it would be in everybody’s best interest if they took wage reductions rather than have one or two people lose their jobs and benefits.

“I’m very fortunate to have an outstanding staff who all care about one another,” she said. “Each one acknowledged that this was the better way to go.”

The Recorder’s Office has been able to continue to offer its services five days a week, but Barta said there is little time for employees to devote to special projects. And vacations and sick days present special challenges.

“We’re trying hard to continue the high level of service,” Barta said. “It’s more difficult because there is one less person here every day. We are a service-oriented office, so it is important to have the staff to properly assist people.”

County Engineer Tim Martin said the county’s tax map room, which had three employees, will be operating with only two. The third person will be transferred to the Satin Street office and will be paid from motor vehicle gas tax funds. Commissioners hope increasing the real estate and manufactured home tax will raise more money for the map room positions.

Martin does not anticipate reducing public access to the room but said it could become necessary if the two remaining employees become swamped and need to shut down for several hours to get caught up.

In the Clerk of Courts Office, two employees have been laid off. Employees there are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Local 3781. The membership has voted to hold commissioners to the bargaining agreement rather than accept concessions.

Sheriff William Johnson said his department is in a holding pattern, despite having his budget cut to $5 million. Commissioners are diligently working to find another $250,000 for the sheriff so he won’t have to cut road deputies. Township trustees have been asked to chip in $125,000, but that plan didn’t fly. Now commissioners are talking to the county’s 9-1-1 board in hopes of raising cash from it. Commissioner Daniel Claypool said the money could be used to keep Sheriff’s Department dispatchers employed.

Johnson said his strategy for the time being is to wait and see while not replacing any employees who leave, although that is becoming very challenging.

County Extension agent David Marrison said he has seen his office’s budget cut by 23 percent from last year. Forty-percent of his funding comes from the county, 60 percent from the state. The seven staff members at the office, which includes the 4-H program, already had gone to four-day workweeks prior to the latest cuts, which shaved $21,000 off his budget.

“We’re about as lean as we can get,” Marrison said.

Preliminary discussions with Extension Office regional leaders and Marrison’s staff were held earlier this week, and the consensus is the office will shut down for three weeks later this year. Targeted periods are the week of 4-H Camp, the Ashtabula County Fair and a third week in the fall.

“We don’t have the staff anymore to cover a major event and have the office open and answering all the questions. We’ll shut the doors and turn off the lights,” he said.

The office also has economized by keeping its old computers for another year, taking a new copier off the wish list, trimming postage and office expenses, and looking for sponsors for events the office normally would cover.

Marrison said restructuring of the service at the state level has helped the local office weather the financial storm. For example, the family consumer science educator is now a shared position, taking that funding burden off the local office.

He said the financial issues facing the local office are being felt across the state.

“We’re all pretty much in the same boat,” he said. “It’s a matter of doing the same on a lot less money.”

Treasurer Robert Harvey, who will turn over his office to Dawn Cragon in September, said he found enough money in non-general-fund accounts to keep the office running without any cuts. Harvey is also banking on the retirement of an employee in July to free up some money. Service hours have not been cut.

“I think we’re in good shape for the shape we’re in,” he said.

In the 2005 financial crunch, Harvey’s employees agreed to 30 hours a week in order to protect jobs and benefits.

“Everybody still got something,” he said. “It’s not as good as working full time, but it’s better than nothing.”

Harvey says every department head or elected official needs to weigh the cost of training workers when deciding on job cuts. He has staff who have been with the department from 20 to 30 years, and he does not want to lose that experience and knowledge.

“Once you let those people go, they are not going to wait for you to hire them back,” he said.

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