County layoffs, department changes begin

COVINGTON -- The difficult process of making the staffing cuts necessary to meet the fiscal year 2011 budget set by commissioners last week has begun.

Based on a reduction in force list obtained from the county, 29 employees have been laid off thus far. The county has not received a list of employees from the Sheriff's Office yet, according to Commission Chairman Kathy Morgan.

The layoffs include two employees from the Board of Commissioners department, one from information technology, three from the Tax Assessors Office, two custodians, two from the engineering department, two from water resources, three from planning and zoning, four from public works, three from fire services, one from the Tax Commissioners Office, three from Juvenile Court, one from the Public Defender's Office and two from Superior Court.

Three department heads were let go -- Planning and Zoning Director Marian Eisenberg, County Engineer Kevin Walter and Water Resources Director Karl Kelley.

"These reductions in work force were due to budget constraints. All employees displaced were good, hard-working, dedicated employees, loyal to our county and its citizens," Morgan said via e-mail Thursday. "These were people we invested both training dollars and experience in the policy and ordinances of Newton County. It is a great loss to our community. I want to personally thank each of them for their service to our county."

Changes are under way for several county departments. The name of the Planning and Zoning Department will be changed to the Department of Developmental Services, which will encompass planning, zoning, code enforcement, GIS, permits, inspections, environmental sciences and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program.

"The intent is to streamline the process and coordinate activities between departments including utilization of a software management program we put into place this year," Morgan said.

There will be a receptionist at a call center to handle calls for all departments on the second and third floors of the county's administration building, Morgan said.

The public works department will be reorganized to include the utility, engineering and water resources departments. A new position of engineering director will be created to supervise both the water resources and engineering departments. Morgan said she has asked both Kelley and Walter to apply for that position.

"We will also begin an asset management analysis of the roads in Newton County, including equipment and organization structure of the public works department. Based on this analysis, we will determine any changes in the future for this department. We will be cross-training staff in this department with our GIS to utilize and coordinate our mapping technology with our actual field work," she said.

More details about the changes to county services are expected to come to light in the coming weeks and months. Morgan said citizens can expect to be impacted.

"These reductions in work force will affect the public because we have less staff to perform services in the county," she said. "In some cases, we will have one employee to handle both the office requirements as well as the field work and inspections. We recommend that you call the department ahead and schedule an appointment with the employee that is trained in that specific area to be sure that you get the correct information the first time. We will be cross-training where appropriate, but that will take time."

Commissioners approved a $46.3 million budget last week and are expected to adopt the rollback millage rate of 10.9 mills at their July 6 meeting. Adoption of the budget based on the rollback rate reduced the total number of estimated employee layoffs from 100 to about 50.