CLEVELAND, OH – Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish has hit back at repeated questions from County Council about its decision not to budget for long vacant positions, incorrectly claiming the body has endorsed the practice for years previous ones.
“I find it hard to understand why so much controversy has arisen over the fact that the proposed budget does not set aside money for vacant positions that are unlikely to be filled during the budget period,” Budish wrote in a letter to the board. dated October 19. “Yet our finance office assures me that the current budget process is very similar to previous budgets. “
He specifically refuted comments from Councilor Michael Gallagher and Councilor Nan Baker that the county had never budgeted this way before, citing its recommended budget for 2018-19, which also proposed cutting funding for positions. vacancies in agencies with historically high attrition rates.
“Although it was in the budget, it was not done in the budget,” Gallagher replied at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, noting that these cuts had not been incorporated into the final approved version. “I will remind my colleagues, and I will remind you, and I will remind the executive: the last budget that this administration gave to this board, with the chairman of the board (Dan) Brady at the helm, we tore it up and sent it back to the executive with 11 signatures … it was such a mess.
None of the county’s department heads, so far, have pushed the council to increase its budgets to accommodate the missing positions. Instead, they say they are confident in assurances from Budish and his administration that they will be able to request additional funds if and when they need it.
But after a year of a pandemic, when agencies were asked to cut funding and freeze hiring, and with an election on the horizon that could result in a leadership change, the majority of the board remain uncomfortable with it. this promise, especially with regard to prison. .
Budish has offered to fund prison staff up to 650 correctional officers. This is an increase of about 100 from current levels, but below the 725 authorized agents. Still, Sheriff Christopher Viland has said he doesn’t see this as downsizing.
Even though the office is able to retain the 126 correctional officers who received contingent job offers at a hiring event last week, bringing the headcount to 176, 16 more than expected, Viland has said he could cover them.
The more officers he hires, the more his overtime costs decrease, in addition to the regular attrition for retirements and other reasons, he argued. Over time, the two will balance out, he said, predicting that he can currently cover up to 710 payroll agents.
“The budget we have is enough to get very close to where we need to be. Not 100 percent, but I don’t expect to reach 100 percent, even if we hire another 126, ”said Viland.
The majority on the board remained skeptical, saying it could allow some departments to underbudget needed staff, but not in prison.
“Maybe there is a way here that some of these departments can be budgeted the old fashioned way just because I don’t want to risk people’s lives,” City Councilor Scott Tuma said. “There are just a few departments, certain areas, your department being one of them, where we can’t risk this because of what has happened in the past or what could possibly happen at the future.”
The Inspector General’s Agency is the only office to request that funding be restored to capacity. When the budget proposal was prepared, Mark Griffin’s office had three vacancies. They have since been filled and need to be funded in the future, he said.
Councilor Dale Miller, who was the sole supporter of Budish’s budget, did not object to the request.
While director of internal audit, Monica Houston, said her office was able to temporarily reallocate funds to cover vacant positions and help stay “full-time,” she called for a budget increase from about $ 275,000 to hire more people to increase their services.
The audit committee found that at current staffing levels, the office is only able to audit about 13 of the county’s 74 agencies each year – a coverage rate of around 18%. If the board is happy with that rate, no additional funding is needed, Houston said. But the county is reportedly not adhering to best practices, which recommend that every agency be covered within three years.
City Councilor Nan Baker spoke out in favor of the funding.
“We had departments that went a while without being audited, then it became a bigger problem that required the intervention of the Inspector General … easily corrected, it turns into something more big, ”she said.
Houston shared these concerns.
“Honestly, I’m not comfortable with 18% because 18% is not enough to cover all of our high risk areas,” Houston said.