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Orange County Veteran's Office worried about new county policy
ORANGE COUNTY - by Lauren Huet
The Orange County Veteran Service Office says it needs to hire a new assistant to help handle a back-log of clients, but a new policy passed by the Commissioners Court is standing in the way.
The Orange County Commissioners Court passed a new policy in February. Now, if an Orange County employee leaves or is fired, a new county employee can't fill that position until after six weeks has passed. An Orange County Commissioner says the policy will save the county money and help reduce the county's three million dollar budget deficit.
Gene Smith is an Orange County Veterans Service Officer. An assistant recently left the Veteran Service Office, and he says they are beginning to build a back-log in clients.
"It's not bad yet, but it's getting that way," said Smith. "Just the fact that it is growing and we're having to put people off longer periods before we can give them assistance."
Smith says a back-log will hurt veterans widows the most.
"The county says 6 weeks before we can even apply, but if you try living six weeks without money, it's a long period for the widows. It hurts them more than it does anybody I think," said Smith.
County Commissioner Jody Crump says the Commissioners Court hasn't received any report of a back-log from the Veteran Service Office. Crump says the policy is not meant to hold anyone back.
"There is no malicious intent to delay or cause any undue harm to any individual or any elected official in the county. That's not it," said Crump.
He says the policy is meant to stop the county from paying money owed to a former employee while also paying for a new employee. He says from January 1, 2014, through the first six weeks of the year, the county issued checks for 111-thousand dollars to 10 employees who had left the county's employment.
"And if we immediately came in and replaced that employee within a week or two, now I'm paying a new employee that's in that position," said Crump. "And I'm still winding down on the expenditures that I was paying out to the employees that are no longer in the county's service."
Crump says if certain positions need to be filled immediately, county departments can appeal to the Staffing Review Committee.
"And if a department head says we have a problem, I need this individual back in this department because it's crucial to have this employee, but they do not meet those exemptions," said Crump, "there is now a review policy board."
Smith has already filed an appeal. Crump says the review board will contact Smith to meet by the end of this week.
"Not being able to service veterans like we should. We've already stopped taking walk-ins," said Smith.
Crump says the policy is about being fiscally responsible.
"We are not going to find anything out there in the county that's going to dump three million dollars back into our budget and balance our budget. It's not," said Crump. "We've got to take the perspective that we've got to look at the small things, the larger things, the easy things, the tough things."