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Permits department plans for possible cuts

February 24, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- In the face of a 40 percent drop in the number of applications for new housing permits, Washington County's Department of Permits and Inspections is preparing for a possible reduction in work force, according to a report from Director Daniel DiVito.

DiVito asked the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday to consider a departmental work-force reduction policy that clarifies how that reduction would be handled.

It states that the county would first consider measures such as schedule adjustments and a hiring freeze, then institute layoffs based on performance factors, with length of service considered only when performance is comparable.

Employees would get two weeks' notice or equivalent severance pay, no displacement rights and would be eligible for rehire for a period equivalent to their length of service.

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DiVito said the department likely will not have to resort to layoffs because five of its 30 full-time positions are already vacant. Those include three permit tech positions and one office assistant position that have been vacant since staff members left the department, as well as a plumbing inspector position that was created during the housing boom of 2005-06, but never filled, DiVito said.

The commissioners agreed those positions should not be filled unless the department's workload increases substantially.

DiVito said the department plans to cut the open plumbing inspector position and a part-time electrical inspector position from its budget request for fiscal year 2010.

The department has already cut its operating budget significantly each of the past three years, and plans to cut it by another 18 percent for fiscal year 2010, DiVito said.

"I can tell you right now that there's not a whole lot left to cut, which is why we've looked at the only thing we really have left to look at to make sure we live up to these responsibilities," DiVito said, explaining the need for a work-force reduction policy.

The commissioners decided Tuesday to hold off on approving the department's proposed work-force reduction policy in order to consider making changes to the county-wide policy instead.

"Other departments, when they see this, I would think they'd probably want to do this themselves," county attorney John M. Martirano said.

The county's current work-force reduction policy, created in 1991, provides only general guidelines. DiVito said he wanted his department to have a more specific policy so employees would know what to expect in regard to advance notice, selection criteria and other terms.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he supports the guidelines proposed by the Department of Permits and Inspections because they give more weight to performance than seniority in determining the order of layoffs.

"In any private business, that's how you look at it," Kercheval said. "I think that's the way it needs to be."

The Department of Permits and Inspections also requested approval to change its name to the Department of Building Safety, and informed the commissioners it would be creating a citizens' advisory committee to evaluate its policies and procedures.

DiVito said the name change was meant as a symbolic "break from the past" as the department recommits itself to its mission to "protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Washington County." He said it would also clear up some confusion on the part of residents who think all permits come through the Permits and Inspections department. The department deals primarily with building code permits and inspections, DiVito said.

Kercheval and Commissioner Terry Baker said they worried the name change would make it harder for people seeking building permits to determine which department they need to call. Kercheval said the department should run the name change by its new advisory committee for further input.

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