600 want Norwich Human Services jobs saved

Norwich - More than 600 people have signed petitions urging the City Council to restore two positions cut from the Human Services Department budget, calling their services "invaluable" to the city.

Beverly Goulet, director of Human Services, said the adult and family services division of her department targeted for the cuts makes up only 0.48 percent of the overall city government budget and also brings in $217,000 in grant revenue to provide services to city residents. The office, which has three social workers, had 1,414 visits from July 1 through Aug. 30, not including phone inquiries, Goulet said.

"Without these two key positions, services to our low- and moderate-income Norwich taxpayers will be severely affected," Goulet said.

Several speakers during a public hearing Monday supported an ordinance to restore the two positions and said the already small staff in the Human Services Department provides excellent service to city residents. Others in favor of restoring the funds objected to the last-minute nature of the cuts - proposed and approved after the two budget hearings in April and May.

Resident Brian Kobylarz called the department "a center of excellence."

The budget called for cutting an account clerk who handles grants and also serves as the department's receptionist and a social worker. The proposed ordinance would fund the $63,184 needed for the positions in this year's budget through the contingency account.

Residents David Crabb and Rodney Bowie opposed restoring the positions, saying the budget was set and the council used these cuts as part of its claim that it reduced the proposed tax increase. Both also said the restored salaries are not proper expenditures for the contingency account, which is supposed to be for unexpected expenses.

The council delayed action on the ordinance to the Oct. 7 meeting, leaving the account clerk's position uncertain for at least one week.

Donna Ralston, city assessor, supported the ordinance because the Human Services account clerk would have seniority "bumping" rights to displace an already trained staff person in her office at a time when the city is undergoing a five-year revaluation of all city taxable property.

City Human Resources Director Brigid Marks said while the union contract has a provision to recall a laid-off employee, there are no provisions in the union contract for reversing complicated bumping rights if the City Council approves the funding a week from the layoff. The account clerk would bump someone with less seniority, and that person could bump a third employee, who then would be laid off.

c.bessette@theday.com

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