Norwich Human Services director post could stay vacant this summer

Norwich - The Human Services Department's director's office is vacant this week for the first time in 29 years, as longtime director Beverly Goulet now officially is retired, and the office could remain vacant through the summer.

City Manager Alan Bergren said that although the position is included in the budget that took effect Tuesday, he has not advertised for Goulet's successor. Goulet was budgeted to earn $87,512 this year.

"I'm looking at opportunities for maybe some more consolidation," Bergren said Tuesday. "We would need a new job description."

The city has two vacant department head positions. The recreation director position was not included in this year's budget, as Bergren told the City Council this spring that he is exploring possible consolidation of that position with another. Last year, the council rejected a last-minute plan to combine the recreation and senior center director's positions. The Rose City Senior Center comes under the Human Services Department.

Bergren suggested a different merger could be considered between the Recreation Department and Norwich Youth and Family Services, which also is an arm of the city Human Services Department. Both departments provide services to Norwich families and children, Bergren said. He said that possibility was discussed before Goulet's departure.

"I'm talking with all the department heads, one on one, and will meet with them as a group," Bergren said. "If there are ways to have more collaboration and cooperative efforts, we should explore that."

He hopes to make a decision within the next 30 to 60 days.

Lee Ann Gomes, assistant director of human services under Goulet, said she was aware of some of the discussions on possible consolidations but has not yet met with Bergren directly.

"I'm looking forward to working with Alan in working through reorganization ideas," Gomes said. "We're hoping for an expeditious solution."

A social worker position and accounting clerk were cut from the Human Services Department last year, leaving the department down three positions at the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year. Because of last year's cuts, the department ended two popular service programs this year.

Human services staff had been trained to help residents fill out income tax forms under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Staff assisted 478 low-income families with their forms, which resulted in $794,542 in tax refunds to those families. In addition, the department helped 227 families apply for the state's new Earned Income Tax Credit.

"2014 will be the last year that we will provide these services due to NHS staff cuts," the department's budget document said.

While the tax assistance program was eliminated, the Human Services Department turned over the state Renter's Rebate Program to the city assessor's office "due to NHS staff cuts." In that program last fiscal year, Human Services Department staff helped 937 elderly or disabled Norwich residents apply for the state renter's rebate.

c.bessette@theday.com

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