21 Employees in Belmont County DJFS Office Face Layoff

Losing a job around this time of the year and during this period of economic uncertainty can cause profound heartache with the approach of Christmas and New Year’s Day – the most festive period of the year for many.

But 21 employees of the Belmont County Department of Jobs & Family Services face that gloomy prospect as a result of cuts in operational funds. “We have lost 57 percent of our operating budget in the past five years,” DJFS director Dwayne Pielech declared.

As a result of the funding cuts, Pielech submitted a reorganizational plan for the DJFS staff to the Belmont County commissioners last week, which included the layoffs of 21 employees in the public assistance area. Pielech said the layoffs will include management personnel as well as the regular workforce.

Pielech said once the reorganizational plan is approved by the commissioners, a 10-day grace period follows before he sends out letters to the 21 employees notifying them of their layoffs. The 21 employees with the lowest seniority will be the first to go.

He indicated there is a possibility that others may be affected.

Pielech said he has met with and explained the employment situation with the union representatives. In all likelihood the layoffs will not become effective before the Christmas holiday but should occur soon thereafter. All of the employees were notified of the impending layoff last week. “They had to know there will be a layoff coming,” Pielech declared. He reasoned some of them may be planning on extensive purchases for the Christmas holiday and the layoff may force them to alter their plans.

The layoff could have affected more than just the 21 employees. “It would have been larger but we were able to reshuffle some funds and prevented it,” Pielech noted. He estimated that action may have saved four positions in the office.

“In 2006 we had 160 employees in our office,” Pielech explained. “Today we have 115.” The latter figure does not include the layoffs that will develop in the next couple of weeks. He also noted that in 2006 the office operated on a $10.3 million annual budget. But this year “our operating budget is down to $4.5 million.” And he added there is a likelihood of more funding cuts in the near future.

A preliminary step for one of the major changes in the official Belmont County family as a result of the November general election will be taken Monday when the county’s Public Defender Commission meets to begin the process of selecting replacement for Eric Costine as the office manager.

When the new year dawns Costine will assume his new duties as judge of Belmont County Western Division Court, succeeding veteran Judge Harry W. White.

Although he is submitting his resignation tomorrow, Costine plans to remain on the defender’s staff until the end of the month. “I feel it is my duty and obligation to stay on until the end of the year and not let the heavy case load to be handled by my two associates,” Costine asserted. Also on the public defender staff are attorneys David Trouten and Frank Pierce.

Costine has been associated with the public defender’s office for 20 years, the last four years as manager. While committing himself to completing the final month as a public defender, Costine admitted “I’m looking forward to my new role” and the challenge of filling the shoes of Judge White, for whom he had high praise.

“Harry has been my role model,” Costine declared. “He was very dedicated and he took his job very seriously. I hope to continue the fine job he has done.” Judge White has been on the Western Division Court bench for 33 years.

With regard to the general election which saw him come out on top in a race that included six prominent Belmont County attorneys, Costine declared, “I feel very fortunate to have been selected out of those six candidates. Obviously I did not get 50 percent of the voter turnout, so I want to prove myself to those who voted for one of the other candidates that I can do the job.” He polled 26 percent of the vote and the closest challenger received 21 percent.

He had praise for all of the others in the race, noting that all of them were outstanding candidates qualified to assume the judicial seat. “That’s why I want to prove myself and I feel I will prove myself. I know the court system inside and out from all the years I have spent there.”

His intention, he added, is to continue the “fairness and truth” that was so well demonstrated by Judge White.

While serving in his judicial role, Costine will continue his law practice with his father, John O. Costine. “Of course, I won’t be able to be the defense in any criminal cases,” he noted. The Costine law firm is one of the oldest in the county having been started in 1920 by his grandfather, John E. Costine.

Friday was the deadline for resumes to be presented by those seeking to move into the public defender manager’s seat. The five-member commission considering the applicants includes township trustees Greg Bizzarri and Ed Good, attorneys Jack Kigerl and Kevin Stryker and Ohio University Eastern Professor Michael McTeague.

It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of kindly Bill “Red” Doleski of Lansing, an old friend and a man whose name appeared in this column many times for recognition not only of his gardening achievements but also his constant endeavor to get community improvements. He went to great lengths every year to earn the distinction of producing the first ripe tomato and for years he pressed state and county officials for road and sidewalk improvements.

About two weeks ago I visited him in East Ohio Regional Hospital and he was excited talking about how he would be planting his garden next spring. His passing leaves a void but I’m sure by now he’s educating his heavenly hosts on how and when to plant tomatoes to ensure producing that first red one.

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to have a chance to get their minds off the hot football season and get acquainted with some of last year’s players, including outfielder Andrew McCutcheon.

The Pirates winter caravan will be coming to the Ohio Valley Mall on Dec. 13 to meet and greet Pirate fans. Heading the delegation will be McCutcheon, who led the Pirates in virtually every hitting category last season and was third in balloting for the league’s most valuable player honor. Joining him will be pitchers Jared Hughes and Justin Wilson, Pirate broadcaster Greg Brown and bench coach Jeff Banister.

The group will be at the mall from 6:30-8 p.m.to meet and greet fans and sign autographs.

With the arrival of December, Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett is reshuffling his staff to prepare for the winter season and the onset of snow. Hopefully his winter crew won’t have too much snow and icy roads to contend with.

Starting on Dec. 12 an afternoon work shift will be started. “We will have three men and one supervisor working from 3:30 p.m. to midnight, five days a week.” Bennett added that schedule will last for 12 weeks with the crew rotating every two weeks.

Bennett made note of the fact that the county has enough salt left over from last year’s mild winter that may last until this mid-winter.

“It would be fine with me,” he added, “if we keep it until next winter.”

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420@aol.com.