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St. Lawrence County legislators continue budget review

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CANTON — Without any cuts in staff, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators agreed Monday to shave nearly $150,000 from its Community Services budget, but held off on a potential $70,000 in reductions in Emergency Services, where a position change is possible.

Legislators earlier asked Community Services Director Angela Doe to come up with $300,000 in possible cuts from her $8.5 million budget request for 2013, but she returned with a total decrease of $143,976.

Legislators have not been happy with Community Services, which came in more than $500,000 over budget this year because changes in reimbursement rates are being phased in rather than taking place in a single year, as had been expected.

Ms. Doe, who has been director for about six months, achieved the reductions for next year by shifting some costs to areas where more federal reimbursement was possible, by eliminating workshops, by boosting revenues from a programming change and by closing a Potsdam chemical dependency satellite clinic. The staff member from that clinic will move to Canton.

Ms. Doe projected $27,300 more in revenue from mental health clinic evaluations and $25,272 more in revenue from chemical dependency evaluations from a walk-in system she has started that eliminates any no-show rate for appointments and boosts the productivity of clinicians.

“We’re no longer scheduling people,” she said. “By the very nature of their illnesses, people were not showing up for appointments.”

She also estimated revenue of $15,878 for a suboxone clinic, a treatment given for opiate addiction.

“Do you need a deputy director?” Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, asked.

Ms. Doe she was not prepared to lose any staff, especially since she had just reorganized the department’s method of evaluating clients and had been with the agency only a short time.

“I think we have some work to do,” she said.

Legislators put off a decision on whether to keep a deputy in Emergency Services.

Director Joseph M. Gilbert proposed eliminating the deputy position, held by Craig C. Ballard, who is paid about $49,000, in favor of a manager of emergency dispatch, which would carry a salary of about $40,000.

Mr. Ballard, who is eligible for retirement, is the liaison with fire departments and rescue squads. That duty could be handled by the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Board and the Fire Advisory Board, Mr. Gilbert said.

Legislators questioned Mr. Gilbert and County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire on his need for an assistant.

“There’s a lot of pieces to it,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “If you want an efficient operation, I think you need two people.”

Mr. Gilbert said he envisioned the manager of emergency dispatch, who would supervise the emergency operation center and its dispatchers, as being filled through an open competitive exam.

“Emergency services is a unique skill set,” he said. “You only get the one opportunity to fail.”

Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, said he preferred to see a promotion from within.

“I’m not ready to add someone on right now,” he said.

Legislators agreed to compare the job descriptions of Mr. Ballard and the proposed new position before making a decision.

Overall, Mr. Gilbert proposed nearly $70,000 in cuts from the tentative budget and made $35,800 in reductions this year by overhauling dispatcher scheduling.

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