Social services positions in limbo

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors (BOS) recently delayed the filling of three vacant positions in the social services department, including two providing around-the-clock emergency responses to "serious allegations of abuse or neglect" in the adult and child protective services units.

Critical staffing committee chairwoman Gayla Trumbo brought the positions before the board with six others, most of which were approved with little controversy.

Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford asked if the county was in danger of losing realignment funds, one of the main sources of funding for health and human service departments.

"We're in danger of the whole world changing," County Administrative Officer (CAO) Jack Ingstad responded, referencing the state budget situation.

Ingstad said some of the positions were investigative in nature and he wanted to look into the idea of combining those types of functions in the sheriff's department.

It seems highly unlikely under current California regulations that realignment funding could be taken from a health and human service department and given to a general fund department like the sheriff's office, even if the sheriff promised to track time and make sure the money was used for that purpose.

Ingstad also voiced concerns about state budget talks moving toward a reorganization of realignment funding, which many people believe would put more responsibility at the county level.

"In this period of uncertainty I think things are going to change dramatically as we know it and I don't think right now I could give you a recommendation on what next year's budget's going to look like."

BOS Chairwoman Lori Simpson agreed, explaining that the state might not give counties adequate funding to cover the new responsibilities.

Indian Valley Supervisor Robert Meacher argued that the critical staffing committee must be well aware of the uncertainty and uneasiness in the state and still recommended filling the social services positions.

He added that people looking for work right now were well aware of the possibility of losing a new job because of budget or economic problems.

Ingstad and Swofford commented that people still got upset the last time that type of situation came up.

The CAO said he thought the state wanted to move more responsibilities to the local level "because they think local government has an easier opportunity to raise taxes than the state does, but I don't think there's gonna be the will of many people on these local boards of supervisors to raise taxes."

Trumbo told the board her committee did consider these factors and concluded funding was currently available and the social services department felt these were essential positions to refill.

The critical staffing committee recommended filling all three positions.

"I hear that argument," Ingstad responded, "and all these positions, everybody's gotta have the position, but we're gonna lay off the last person in my office when she retires. You go to most other CAO offices and they've got three, four or five people in similar-sized counties."

"It's always easier to have a vacant position than to lay off a person, and when somebody retires it's a lot easier than a layoff," he added.

Asked if realignment funds from the health and human services department could be used to fill the CAO office staff position, Ingstad said that wasn't possible, "but realignment dollars are at the discretion of the board so they can move them around."

When asked where the board could move those realignment funds he said, "It'll all depend on what the new realignment looks like."

Meacher commented that under the state's current rules "those funds are relatively restricted."

"The board still has a great deal of leeway in providing programs with that money," Ingstad contended.

New Graeagle Supervisor Jon Kennedy told his fellow board members he wanted to meet with each department head requesting positions but didn't realize the preceding Friday was a county holiday, and wasn't able to get to all of them.

"I don't feel like I had enough time to attack each one of these and discuss with department heads to make a decision today."

Simpson told him Social Services Director Elliott Smart likely didn't attend the supervisors' meeting because "I think most department heads figure if its gone through critical staffing as a recommendation then it usually goes forward with the board."

Meacher said the committee was formed "to try to take politics out of this and hone in on the position and the issue and look at the details that we can't go through unless we did a workshop here at the board level on all this."

"It's been previous boards' policy that if you're going to form a committee you take that committee's advice. Otherwise you don't need the committee."

Chester Supervisor Sherrie Thrall argued that the county should fill realignment positions until the board had more clarity on what the state would do.

Simpson supported Smart's request, saying his workload was "at the highest level it's ever been in this county and according to the audit he has $300,000 in reserves so to me I say move forward."

Kennedy said he didn't want to disrespect the committee but wanted more time to sit down with Smart and discuss the positions, explaining that he just got this information the previous Thursday.

"That's how it's going to be when you're a supervisor," Simpson told him.

"No, no, no - not with me it's not," he retorted.

The board agreed to continue the decision on those positions until the next meeting: Tuesday, March 1.

The supervisors then approved five positions in the public works, treasurer and probation departments.

One position in the planning department was delayed until the new fiscal year begins, with Planning Director Randy Wilson and the critical staffing committee supporting the decision.

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