By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN -- The Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to consolidate the operations of the county's Youth Bureau into its Office For Aging, effectively eliminating the position of Youth Bureau Director Charis Gray.
The move was made over the objections of Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor Jack Callery, 1st Ward Supervisor Richard Handy, Stratford town Supervisor Robert Johnson and Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Ponticello, who voted against the measure.
Before the vote, Handy questioned both the rationale behind the decision to propose the consolidation and the manner in which it was done, suggesting that much of the discussion regarding the matter may have taken place in executive sessions that were not warranted.
Handy said he feared that the consolidation would essentially bring an end to the youth bureau and the services it provides.
"It should have been done in open session," Handy said. "Where's the OFA Director going to get the time to do both?"
Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead explained that the consolidation resolution was not intended to eliminate youth bureau programs, but simply to streamline its operations.
"You're basically still going to have a youth bureau," Stead said. " It's just going to be a division of the OFA."
"Without a leader and proper structure, they're going to have a difficult time maintaining their identity," argued Ponticello. "Who's going to advocate for the youth of the community?"
With youth programs throughout the state having been subjected to dramatic cuts in state funding in recent years, may supervisors saw administrative consolidation as the most appropriate solution to cutting costs while maintaining the program.
"It was pretty obvious that we could cut costs and still have better administration," said Broadalbin town Supervisor Joe DiGiacomo. DiGiacomo also serves as the chairman of the board's Human Services Committee.
The consolidation proposal was moved to the full board through three of its committees, including Human Services, Personnel and Finance.
Perth Town Supervisor and Finance Committee Chairman Greg Fagan said his committee members considered cutting Gray's nearly $16,000 salary as an alternative to consolidation.
Stead explained that that salary, when divided by the 10 hours per week the Youth Bureau Director is required to work, actually exceeds that of the county's Director of Personnel.
"Why not cut the salary to better represent the hours worked?," Callery offered.
"The point was to maintain the services and cut the overhead," said Bleecker town Supervisor Dave Howard.
Howard noted that a similar consolidation was implemented by the board last year, with the OFA assuming the administration of the county's Veterans Service Agency.
"We though it would be a good fit -- youth, veterans and retired -- all under one roof," said Howard.
"To me, it's a win, win situation," agreed Gloversville First Ward Supervisor Marie Born. "We're not abolishing the Youth Bureau. In fact, I think, it will be enhanced."
On Wednesday, DiGiacomo said the consolidation measure was something that the board had been considering for some time as a result of diminishing responsibilities within the bureau itself.
"The program is a good program, but the administration, we think, wasn't necessary the way it was being done," said DiGiacomo.
DiGiacomo estimated that bureau receives approximately $60,000 per year in funding from the state.
"They kind of redistribute it to youth programs throughout the county and throughout the school districts even," said DiGiacomo. "They used to run programs in school districts, but as far as I'm told, there's no more programs being run by the youth bureau. It's more of a facilitator to get the grant money in and redistribute it."
"Really, it's more of an administrative pass through," he added. "Do we really need a director. Do we really need to pay somebody $16,000?"
With 50 percent of Gray's salary funded by the state, in addition to the program costs, and the office itself costing the county approximately $3,000 per year to operate, DiGiacomo estimated that the move will save Fulton County approximately $10,000 a year.
DiGiacomo said the county's Office For Aging Director Andrea Fettinger will be afforded a small stipend, half of which will be paid through state funds, to account for any additional duties.
The consolidation will have no effect on the amount the provided by the state for youth programs.
"We're spending out less, but we're also getting in a little less," DiGiacomo said.
DiGiacomo said the county approached Fettinger with the proposal prior to drafting the resolution.
"She was OK with it," DiGiacomo said. "Other counties have done this kind of combined, youth, veterans and elderly programs all together and it seems to work pretty well."
"Andrea's been very good with the county," he added. "I'm sure she'll learn the job."
Neither Gray nor Fettinger returned a call for comment.