AUBURN — A newly-released report highlighting where Cayuga County government could become more efficient and organized has shown the county is short-staffed and in need of upgrades.
Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods gave county legislators his recommendations for what measures to move forward with from the report compiled by the Center for Governmental Research, a firm the county hired last year. Woods rated those items on a low, medium and high priority scale, at a special Legislature meeting Monday night. His top two priorities? Hire two new probation officers and commence the creation of a department of public works.
The probation department has long been understaffed, with officers currently handling about 100 cases each. Raise the Age, legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility from 16 and 17 to 18, requires new supervision for those teens and that's falling on probation departments. Probation director Jay DeWispelaere had told legislators in February that the number of juvenile delinquents his department may have to supervise could jump from about seven to 77.
Woods said he'd like the Legislature to hire two new probation officers now, with two more slotted for the medium/long-term haul. While there should be financial backing coming from the state to support the new legislation, Woods said hiring two new people was a necessity for the department either way.
Besides manpower, the department is lacking in space. Woods said that, too, is something the county needs to address, and soon.
"We can't just hire people," he said. "We have to have somewhere for them to work as well."
The county's public works got a hard look, too, Monday night. Woods took the report's suggestion of consolidating highway, parks and trails, buildings and grounds and weights and measures and making them all one department of public works with a new director. Doing that would require a heavy lift, he said, from the county attorney's office, considering some local laws would need to be changed.
Acting Highway Superintendent Dan Bowen has been receiving management assistance from Bill Dashnaw, retired St. Lawrence County Highway superintendent. That contract is nearly halfway through. Woods said Bowen and Dashnaw have finished assessing Cayuga County's county roads, and found about 47 percent of them are rated as deficient. That assessment did not include bridges, culverts, buildings and grounds, Woods added.
"We need to pull all of that into a unified plan, a multi-year plan," Woods said.
Aside from those two priorities, Woods said other things should happen sooner rather than later like potentially restructuring committees, upgrading the county's website, automating the payroll system, expanding hours for department of social services staff, and more.
Some medium- to long-term goals Woods proposed included hiring a deputy planning director, hiring a civil engineer, holding more training programs. expanding human resources' capacity, hiring a communications director, hiring a deputy administrator and establishing a defenders legal aid society, to name a few.
None of the suggestions, in the report itself or in Woods' initial presentation, included whether they would save the county money, or what they would cost. Most of the measures appeared to be pull on the budget, however, and that had some legislators hesitate.
Legislator Ryan Foley said he felt a conflict with adding new positions now and in a short-term manner considering historically legislators have asked department heads to wait for budget season. Woods said he did think adding two probation officers made sense at this time.
Overall, Woods proposed about 10 new positions in the county, though to be added over time and some likely adjusted within current positions. Legislator Keith Batman said many of these suggestions would be a draw on the budget.
"I think we have a lot of good ideas," he said. "The things we have money to do are very limited. ... We just need to move very cautiously to make sure we have money to do these things."