Westmoreland County officials bypass hiring freeze
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 10:27 p.m.
Westmoreland County commissioners have hired 18 employees since they instituted a hiring freeze at the start of the year.
A review of staffing levels revealed that officials continued to fill jobs in January, albeit at a rate that was slightly lower than 2013.
“This is a work in progress, and a hiring freeze is a philosophy. What we need to do is not shoot ourselves in the foot. We'll look at every position that comes open and see if it makes sense” to fill it, Commissioner Charles Anderson said.
Through January, commissioners filled several nursing positions at Westmoreland Manor, the county-owned nursing home in Hempfield. Also hired were part-time custodial workers for district judges' offices, probation officers and a planning coordinator.
According to figures from the commissioners' office, the hires will be paid more than $395,000 in total annual salaries. Other part-timers will receive hourly wages.
While commissioners oversee the creation of jobs, elected row officers have autonomy to fill positions in their offices. No full-time jobs were filled in January by row officers.
Jobs in the court system are controlled by county judges. Those include probation officers and court staff.
President Judge Gary Caruso last month directed departments under the court system to conduct full vacancy reviews before jobs are filled.
Commissioners said a similar review is under way for other county vacancies.
“We're just challenging people to take a broader look at what they're doing,” said Commissioner Tyler Courtney.
Commissioners said some of this year's hires were needed to ensure that around-the-clock operations, such as those at Westmoreland Manor, are fully staffed.
“A hiring freeze is a harsher term than what I am willing to use,” Courtney said.
In January 2013, 22 workers were added to the payroll.
Anderson and Courtney said in December, upon approval of a $321 million county budget, that an indefinite hiring freeze was being instituted as part of a comprehensive spending-cut plan to be enacted this year.
Commissioner Ted Kopas voted against the budget.
“Clearly there is not a hiring freeze, and I never said there was one,” Kopas said. “If a position needs to be filled, I will fill it. If it doesn't, I won't. I have no interest in filling useless jobs, and I will not, by the same token, undersell the public.”
County hiring has dipped slightly during the past decade.
The county had 2,074 employees on the payroll in 2003. At the end of 2013, there were 1,940 workers, up by nine from 2012.
Anderson said a review of the workforce is under way as part of a move to privatize some functions of the human resources office.
The county replaced that office's director with an outside firm to oversee hiring and firing.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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