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Lewis County sets policies for terminated employees, fund balance

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators last week established separate policies for handling terminated employees and managing the county’s fund balance.

“There were no standards or procedures — what should be followed after the discharge of an employee,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

That came to light in late March, when fired Recreational Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl was allowed to go into his former office and remove files from his county computer.

Then-County Manager David H. Pendergast said Mr. Diehl, who was fired in February for alleged misconduct, had requested access to logos and posters he had developed and pictures he had taken, along with other personal items.

After consulting with Mr. Tabolt and county attorney Richard J. Graham, Mr. Pendergast allowed the ex-employee to go to his former office while accompanied by other county staff.

Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, afterward raised concerns that such access could affect criminal proceedings against Mr. Diehl, who has been accused of submitting to the county a purchase order and voucher for $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his Martinsburg residence for his personal use.

The criminal case remains pending in County Court, while Mr. Diehl has since filed a civil suit against the county claiming he was improperly terminated.

Mr. Tabolt at the time acknowledged his part in allowing the computer access and recommended development of a terminated employees policy.

The new, two-page policy states that employees’ access to the county computer network be terminated as soon as they end their work duties with the county.

Terminated employees would have access to county work locations only with supervision of a department manager and permission from the county manager and/or personnel officer.

“At no time should a terminated employee have access to work-related material without being supervised,” the policy states. “All work-related materials, including documentation completed or created while working for Lewis County, are property of Lewis County and should not be used by a terminated employee for their own personal benefit.”

Meanwhile, a new fund balance policy directs management to “strive to maintain an unassigned fund balance in the General Fund of $10 million” and keep it from falling below $6 million.

“That’s pretty much what our policy has been,” said Legislator Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, chairman of the legislative Ways and Means Committee.

However, putting it in writing should help to maintain an emphasis on keeping sufficient reserves to cover cash flow, keep a strong bond rating and be prepared for an emergency expenditures, he said.

The policy does allow the fund balance to drop below the $6 million mark in the event of a “catastrophic economic event” and notes that fund balance above the $10 million mark could be earmarked for capital expenses or to pay off debt.

“If Lewis County didn’t have a hospital, these numbers wouldn’t have to be so high,” Mr. Bush said.

While the county has a roughly $50 million budget, its combined budget with Lewis County General Hospital is more than $113 million.

The $6 million to $10 million fund balance range would amount to between 5 percent and 9 percent of the total county and hospital budget.

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