Last updated: September 17. 2013 11:39PM - 2758 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Employee cross-training required to effectively merge two Luzerne County offices under the new home rule structure has been slowed by union resistance, a county official said.

County Judicial Services and Records Division Head Joan Hoggarth disclosed the matter during a Tuesday night budget work session when Councilman Harry Haas asked for a status report on the restructuring of offices in her division.

Hoggarth said grievances were filed when she started implementing cross-training in the deeds and wills offices, which are now housed together in the county’s River Street Courthouse Annex. The plan was to teach employees how to perform the duties of coworkers so services could be covered when someone who normally handles a particular task is out of the office or busy.

The wills and deeds employees are covered by two different collective bargaining agreements, both under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, union.

Hoggarth said the union is not in “total agreement” that cross-training is permissible under union contracts. She has presented job descriptions and other information to the union but was instructed to hold off on implementing cross-training pending negotiations with the union.

Some workers are still cross-training on their own without a directive from management, Hoggarth said.

Hoggarth said she is confident departments in her division — which also includes the sheriff, coroner, civil and criminal court records offices — will meet overall revenue and spending budget allotments at the end of the year. The main concern is a $300,000 revenue shortfall in the civil court record division, but officials said receipts are expected to close that gap.

Some highlights from department heads:

• Art Bobbouine, interim overseer of the criminal and civil record departments, announced workers have corrected a criminal court record processing backlog. The recording and filing of records were up to a year behind.

• Filings are up in the deeds office, which processes documents related to property transactions. The office handles about 40,000 documents annually, but filings have been increasing an average 275 per month, Hoggarth said. She attributed much of the increase to mortgage refinancing and more real estate activity at the Eagle Rock residential development in Hazle Township.

• Interim Coroner William Lisman said his office’s 2013 budget of $487,000 pales in comparison to several other similarly sized, third-class counties. He cited the following coroner budgets in other counties: Lehigh, $1.8 million; Dauphin, $1.3 million; and Lancaster, $1.15 million. Lisman attributed his lower budget to the county’s heavy reliance on funeral directors as outside contractors to handle reviews of the deceased. These contractors are paid $65 to $75 per call, which costs less than hiring employees, he said.

Tuesday’s budget session was the last before county Manager Robert Lawton presents his proposed 2014 budget to council by the Oct. 15 home rule deadline, Council Chairman Tim McGinley said. Council and the public will have about two weeks to digest the proposal before the first 2014 budget public budget hearing on Oct. 29, he said.

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