Michael P. DeForest shows the Mercer County Revenue Department office emptied of employees because of temporary layoffs. Many county departments were down to skeleton crews this week as commissioners ordered the layoffs to cut costs because of a budget deficit.

It was almost eerily quiet inside the Mercer County Courthouse Wednesday morning, as 43 of the United Steel Workers Union employees are laid off for the week as part of cost-cutting measures taken by the county commissioners.

There’s no one sitting at the information desk in the rotunda this week to help point people in the right direction in the four-story building. And many offices, particularly on the ground floor, have only one or two people working.

“We’re functioning. We have minor inconveniences,” Commissioner Chairman Brian Beader said. “We think it’s going fairly well.”

Elections Director Jeff Greenburg is “flying solo” for the week and said he’s had to field between five and 10 calls a day and a handful of people with questions.

Greenburg said he missed the interaction with his staff.

“It is a little bit odd to be sitting here by myself,” he said.

Greenburg said his office will be a little bit behind on their voter removal program, but “that’s not critical by any stretch.” If the layoffs had happened closer to voter registration deadlines, then it would have been a problem, he said.

Revenue Director Michael P. DeForest, whose office has half a dozen empty chairs, said he expects there will be work piled up when tax assessment staff return next week.

“We’re open. Things are going fine,” DeForest said. “We’re fulfilling the legal requirements.”

The layoffs came after the first rush of people to pay their late taxes before the tax sale deadline, though another is coming up in September, DeForest said.

For Treasurer Ginny Steese Richardson, the furloughs come at a busy time in her office.

She lost three of her five employees for the week, yet they’ve managed to process the 2,300 doe-hunting licenses they received so far. They got 73 by noon on Wednesday and she said they’d be processed by the end of the day.

Mrs. Richardson said they aren’t doing anything but handling the hunting licenses this week and “everything else gets pushed aside.”

She said lobby visits have been slow and it could be that people know the workers are out and stayed away this week.

Beader said that he’s been pleased with the public’s reaction to bare-bones staffing.

“We understand they’ve been patient,” he said.

Beader said there have been “only minor issues” to deal with so far and mentioned a lot of work piling up in the tax offices. He said mail is getting processed and garbage cans are being emptied.

“The appropriate paper products are still in the restrooms,” Commissioner John Lechner said.

Prothonotary Elizabeth Fair said her office has been affected by the slowing of mail processing and holding off on ordering supplies. Her staff are not members of the union so they’re still working this week.

Beader said that they’ve consistently tried to not fill positions if possible as a way to save money. He noted that they have to pay toward unemployment benefits for furloughed workers.

Before deciding on the layoffs, Beader said commissioners analyzed the situation and found that doing it all at once this week would result in “minimum impact for the courthouse and the public.”

Most of the unionized courthouse employees are clerks, secretaries and maintenance workers. Some members of the union were handing out fliers at the entrances of the courthouse Wednesday, something Beader said he had “no comment” on.

“It’s a public building,” Beader said.

The union plans to hold a rally this morning on the west lawn of the courthouse to voice their complaints about the layoffs and how they were handled, Amalgamated Local 1355 President John Kloos said.

All but two of the union’s members, a maintenance worker and a grievance officer, were laid off to save about $25,000. It’s part of the commissioners’ plan to save $200,000 in the face of a $800,000 budget shortfall.

Before the layoffs were announced Aug. 5 — the short notice is a point of contention for union members — Children and Youth Services agreed to take five days off unpaid and there are three vacant positions that haven’t been filled in that department. Sheriff’s deputies and elected officials agreed to take a 3 percent pay cut the rest of the year.

The county’s non-union employees also had their wages cut by 3 percent and commissioners Wednesday said they decided to cut three vacant guard positions at the jail, making the number of guards 63, a move that Fiscal Administrator John Logan said should save at least $120,000.

Lechner said that there could be more actions taken to save money at the jail.

At this point, only the jail guards and 911 workers have been spared cost-cutting measures.

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