Fears Expressed Over Kasich Plan To Move State Offices

Kaylyn Hlavaty

Updated Fri, Feb 8, 2013 11:39 am

Lost jobs, increased fuel costs and reduced family time were just some of the fears discussed at a meeting aimed at preventing the relocation of some state offices outside Athens County.

Employees of the Payment Analysis and Account Reconciliation Office (PAAR) in The Plains and area residents voiced their concern about a plan to move the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services' office from The Plains to Franklin County.

In January, Ohio Department of  Jobs and Family Services announced one of 13 offices was relocating.

This plan is an effort to use vacant office space and save ODJFS $2 million annually while minimizing the effect of services to its clients. 

In an effort to keep the 47 local jobs, the Athens County Commissioners have offered free space to the agency.

The commission wrote a letter to Governor John Kasich urging him to reconsider the move.

"Living wage jobs are difficult to find in our community," the commission explained.

The letter continued:

"We cannot afford to lose any. We have more than our share of families that struggle to make ends meet. We cannot afford to add to their numbers."

Benjamin Johnson, a spokesperson for Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, said the free office space offered by the commission wouldn't cut enough costs.

"By having fewer locations, it will save us from the additional costs by not having to supply IT infrastructure to each location," said Johnson.

One of the benefits of the plan, Johnson said, is the staff at all the 13 locations can keep their jobs despite changing locations.

"We understand it's an inconvience to commute, but there is the option to do so in order for the employees not to lose their jobs," said Johnson.

Employees, residents and government officials gathered at the PAAR office Wednesday evening to voice their concerns about how the move would negatively impact employees and Athens County as a whole.

Lenny Eliason, Athens County commissioner, spoke to the crowd about the struggle to maintain jobs in a region marked with increasing unemployment.

"[It] is distressing to me that this administration keeps whacking away at the people delivering these services to the people who are most needy."

Chris Chimiel, Athens County commissioner, encouraged the crowd to urge state officials to reconsider the plan.

"We got democracy it's not dead, but if you're dead then democracy is dead," said Chimiel. "Let's go and get motivated and you know if you lose one battle you got to win the war."

Since starting five years ago as the director of Meigs County Job and Family Services, Christopher Shank went to meetings at both the state and city level where efficency was one of the main goals discussed.

"Officials said to partner with your neighboring county, partner with your own community and people in other organizations that you may not have previously partnered with and we've done that here," said Shank. "I think it's a great opportunity for the director at Jobs and Family Services at the state level to do the same with us here in Athens."

Several employees spoke about how the relocation will affect employees financially and the toll it will take on the family time spent together.

Kevin Ihle works at the Office of Child Support.

As a resident of Meigs County, he said he is worried about about the increase in fuel costs if he were to commute from his home to Columbus everyday.

Currently Ihle drives 30-miles from his home to the offices in The Plains, but a commute to Columbus would be add 170 miles to the round-trip.

Ihle, who has a five-year-old and 20-year-old in college, said the increase in gas and car insurance costs would force him to look elsewhere for a job.

"I spend around $14 on gas per day at $3.50 a gallon which equals $70 per week. If I were to make the commute to Columbus then it would cost me $230 in fuel costs," Ihle said.

"To put this into more of a prespective, I spend around $3,640 per year on fuel, but driving to Columbus 52 weeks out of the year I would spend $11,960, which is susbstantial increase."

But Ihle said financial costs are not the only thing being affected by the consolidation plan.

The time he would spend with his famlily and communtiy duties would also suffer.

"It's hard to fathom the time not spent with family from each worker in this office.

"Now imagine the harships I mentioned and mulitply that by 49 other employees," he said.

State Representative Debbie Phillips (D-Albany) emphasized the importance of these jobs to the community and if residents do not take action the jobs may be lost.

"I would encourage everyone to reachout to Governor Kasich's office and the Director of ODJFS, Michael Colbert and encourage them to look at this creative solution that's been generously offered by the county commissioners," said Phillips.

If the consolidation does proceed, the work will begin in the spring and the employees of the PAAR office could be left to either commute, relocate or lose their jobs by the end of April.

This plan is part of a larger project that will impact 573 employees across the state.

The consolidation would reduce the current 27 Job and Family Services locations to 15 across the state.