Watching the Lewis County Legislature slog through this year’s budget process has been a painful experience. First they were going to hold on to a pile of money they’ve squirreled away, and then they were going to make a series of arbitrary cuts that would have eviscerated a pair of statutorily required and useful departments — Public Health and the Board of Elections — and then they decided at the last minute to use some of their overly healthy fund balance to keep the tax rate static for another year. Whew.
Now, they’re back to tinkering. The legislators, in their incessant effort to complicate county government, want to eliminate the Civil Service Commission and create a Personnel Department to oversee county personnel issues. With the complexities of the modern day workplace, the statutory requirements of Civil Service Law and the sheer size of the county workforce, this probably is a wise move. The Civil Service Commission costs the county a little more than $100,000 each year, but is not involved in any personnel issues outside of the realm of Civil Service. A new department should cost more because it would oversee all aspects of county hiring, discipline and firing, but the benefit would be clear: a trained human resources professional would be there to guide the county on an increasingly difficult area of management.
Just to prove that this Legislature has an almost infinite capability to send a good idea south, however, they are now trying to get Lewis County General Hospital to be their Personnel Department. They want the hospital personnel office to run not just the hospital’s human resources department, but the county’s as well. They apparently think this will let them try to sell it to the public as a new department that really isn’t — by contracting with the hospital. They have glibly suggested the hospital’s personnel director, Timothy J. Ryan Jr., would also run the county’s human resources operation, without the county paying him anything. Any additional compensation, they suggest, would come from the hospital.
The hospital, of course, isn’t going to give Mr. Ryan more money to do the county’s work — unless, of course, the county contracts with the hospital for the service. A figure very near $250,000 has been bandied about for this. So while Legislator Rick Lucas talks big about not being interested in making the county bigger, he is apparently very interested in spending more money.
Until all the figures have been made public, we won’t know what the financial impact of this goofy plan is. But it appears that a fair argument could be made that piling on the hospital’s personnel operations in the name of economy — and likely false economy at that — is just another in a series of oddball decisions coming out of this Lewis County Legislature.