NY: Cuomo budget: No DEC layoffs

Albany - Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s belt-tightening 2011-12 budget
proposal calls for the layoffs of up to 9,800 state workers, but
none within the DEC.

That news, however, comes with an important qualifier.

Cuomo’s draft budget, which will now go through the laborious
legislative process which has in the past virtually guaranteed a
late adoption of the spending plan, notes that the staffing
proposal “does not reflect layoffs that may be necessary in the
absence of negotiated workforce savings.”

What that means at this point remains to be seen.

“Based on the past two years, it is very difficult to assess the
impacts, good or bad, of Gov. Cuomo’s executive budget,” DEC
Assistant Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug
Stang said. “On the plus side, there are no targeted layoffs for
DEC or the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. But
there is that caveat (regarding negotiated workforce savings).”

In addition to Cuomo’s DEC staffing proposal, which would keep
the number at just over 3,000 workers, DEC would see a budget cut
of 5 percent under the Cuomo plan, which still must make it through
the legislative meat grinder.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
would see a 6.2 percent funding cut. Some officials contend that
will trigger another round of proposed state park closures similar
to last year; those shutdowns were ultimately nixed.

Stang, however, says it’s way too early to plug in any of those
numbers.

“We really can’t assess the impacts until after the budget is
passed and the Division of Budget provides the spending allocations
to the agencies,” he said. “The past two years, these allocations
were much reduced compared to spending levels inferred by the
Executive and enacted budgets.”

Cuomo’s budget proposal also keeps the Environmental Protection
Fund unchanged at $134 million. That’s seen as good news, since the
fund supports land acquisition, farmland preservation, recycling
programs, non-point source pollution control projects, and
municipal park and waterfront revitalization projects.

State agencies, prior to Cuomo’s budget unveiling last week,
were bracing for another round of layoffs as the governor promised
“a period of short-term pain” as the state deals with a massive
financial deficit.

DEC officials have contended in the past their agency has
already lost enough personnel through a pair of early retirement
incentives, a statewide hiring freeze that has left positions
unfilled, and a round of layoffs late last year.

“We’ll see what happens,” Stang said prior to Cuomo’s budget
announcement. “We’ll have a much better idea once the governor
releases his budget.”

The layoffs and early retirements may have hit the state’s fish
hatchery system the hardest, officials said. That’s largely because
the early retirements hit a pair of hatcheries – Adirondack and
Chateaugay – particularly hard.

“We have no control over that,” Stang said. “It’s just by
happenstance.

Trying to shuffle hatchery staff from one facility to another
has been a challenge, Stang added. In some cases, workers “may be
hesitant to move across the state” to fill those vacancies. “And
they may not even be the primary bread winner in the family, so
that comes into play,” he added. “There’s all sorts of factors
involved.”

DEC already cancelled the annual Raquette River lake trout egg
collection last fall in response to the staffing shortages. And
although there’s been no talk of closing a hatchery, there was some
discussion of releasing landlocked salmon from the Adirondack
hatchery instead of holding them for stocking next spring due to a
lack of personnel to care for the fish.

Regardless, Stang says DEC’s fish and wildlife division is still
feeling its way through the staffing situation and personnel
changes in which several individuals were promoted into upper-level
jobs left vacant by a string of early retirements.

“We’re in a position now where we need to do some
self-examination and figure out what we can actually achieve and
get done well with our reduced capacity,” he said. “We need to take
stock, and look at roles and responsibilities. We haven’t adjusted
to it (the staff changes) yet. People retire and they’re gone, and
there are times when you’re saying ‘I didn’t know they were doing
that.'”

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