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Legislature split over new position; Department of Family Services attorney

By Fritz Mayer
December 18, 2013

Members of the Sullivan County Legislature were divided over whether the county should hire another lawyer for the Department of Family Services (DFS) at a meeting of the Government Services Committee at the government center on December 12.

The position would cost $122,639 per year, but only $23,301 would come from the county, and the balance would come from the state and federal government. According to the resolution, the attorney would provide oversight of such areas as “department legal services, child support enforcement services and fraud investigation services.”

DFS commissioner Randy Parker told the legislators that there are monies due to the department that are not being collected because of a lack of legal talent. He said, for instance, there is $32 million in unpaid child support payments in the county $18 million of which is owed to DFS, and another $3.7 million is owed in “repayment agreements.” Parker also noted that the budget he put forward for 2014 realizes a savings of about $600,000 compared to the 2013 budget.

There was a brief discussion about whether the county would be better served by moving the DFS legal department entirely into the county attorney’s office, which, according to county attorney Sam Yasgur, is the structure used by an estimated 70% of the counties in the state. Ultimately, though, the lawmakers decided that was a topic that could be discussed at a later date.

Of the immediate question, Legislator Jonathan Rouis said, “We’ve heard about nothing for month after month but the need for boots on the ground at DFS.” He wondered if filling a “managerial position,” was the best use of county money.

Parker responded that it was a “boots on the ground” position, which was needed for the review of paperwork that could lead to the collection of money owed to the county.

Rouis said, “It’s a civil service, legacy position, and once it’s here you can’t get rid of it.”

Legislator Kathy LaBuda said, “The problem is if we start re-instating people in your department—I understand you need it—but other departments are going to have the same feeling; they’re going to say, ‘Can’t you give me another body. I’m going to save you x amount of dollars,’”

Another topic of discussion was that the resolution was being introduced in the General Services Committee, rather than the Personnel Committee. At one point Rouis said, “Once again we’re trying to shove something through where it doesn’t belong.”

Legislator Ira Steingart asked, “Why is it in this committee and not in personnel?”

Legislator Cindy Geiger said, “You removed it out of your committee.”