By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- Two more employees could be hired this year in the Montgomery County Economic Development and Planning Department to handle ongoing projects and alleviate the workload, officials said.
The Montgomery County Economic Development and Planning Committee passed a resolution to the Personnel Committee Tuesday to hire a GIS specialist and an executive secretary with annual salaries of $33,871 and $32,415, respectively.
The executive secretary would also be provided benefits at an estimated cost of $13,000 a year.
"The department is way understaffed," District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond said. "This department creates a lot of revitalization for the county, which I am in favor of, so I would like to do what I can."
Prior to the motion, director Kenneth Rose presented a packet to the committee that described the various functions and responsibilities of his department, as well as ongoing projects that are increasing each year.
Rose also explained how his department staff has been cut over the years, providing organizational charts dating back to 2003, when there were two separate departments for planning and economic development, which operated with four employees each.
Then, the departments merged, and consisted of seven employees until staffing cuts decreased the department to four employees -- a director, senior planner, and two economic development specialists.
"We have reduced staff but we are taking on additional programs," Rose said.
Besides the economic development and planning components, the department also handles the county's capital program, tourism promotion program, transportation program, administrative support for the county Industrial Development Agency, and website and social media development and maintenance.
With a reduced staff, Rose said the department can't perform all the tasks and complete all of the projects.
"You are seeing stuff we have been doing since 2010, but doing it 50 percent, and now it's becoming inefficient," Rose said.
The department currently has ongoing contractual relationships with 20 companies in the county that employ 2,216 individuals with a combined payroll of $103 million, Rose said. Those companies generate $6 million in property taxes and Payments in Lieu of Taxes. Capital investment from those projects is $344 million.
The overall departmental cost from those relationships is $108,000, he said.
"All I am asking for is two positions this year and next year," Rose said. "If not, we are going to have to address which projects you want us to concentrate on, and what you don't want us to concentrate on, because things are going to have to change."
District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz raised concerns about hiring employees mid-year, and the potential impact on this year's budget. Since it is an unexpected expense, it would have to come out of fund balance, which Weitz asked to review prior to the regular board meeting.
"I would agree the department is understaffed, and it does bring in a lot of money, but at the same time, there is no department that isn't understaffed," Weitz said.
Rose said the salaries for the employees are based on a full year, so if hired this year, those salaries would be halved.
Weitz asked if the GIS mapping services could be shared, but Rose said that it would not be cost effective.
If the board were to vote to hire only one employee, Rose said he would rather have the executive secretary who would help with projects, assist the project manager, and take a lot of the administrative workload.
However, Dimond said the department needs both employees this year, and asked County Executive Matthew Ossenfort if there were funds available that could be used to cover the additional costs.
"I would say there is a good chance we can find some unspent funds within the budget to help," Ossenfort said, although he would have more definitive numbers by next week's meeting.
The county Personnel Committee meeting is May 20 at 6 p.m.