Concord — January 22, 2004 — After bickering over who was responsible, a special legislative committee voted yesterday to approve 16 layoffs at the Department of Environmental Services. The department had announced the layoffs almost two weeks ago, but had not gotten legislators’ approval to make the budget changes. The workers’ last day is today.
Legislative Fiscal Committee members wanted Commissioner Michael Nolin to take responsibility for the layoffs – despite a budget provision authorizing the agency to cut spending if it didn’t affect services or aid to communities.
“Nothing in the language of the budget says to you that the Legislature expects you to cut,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dick Green, a Fiscal Committee member. “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing as a manager.” “That is correct,” replied Nolin. He said he ordered the layoffs to make the department more efficient and to save $2.2 million. The authority “comes with the position,” he said.
Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat, questioned how the agency would provide the same level of services to the public with fewer people. Nolin insisted services would not change. The workload was being spread among remaining staff, he said.
While members of the audience snickered – many of them state employees – Nolin said the remaining employees would just have to work harder. “There’s no reason you can’t do more with less,” he said.
Smith pressed Nolin to explain how, for example, the lab could function as efficiently with the loss of the only person trained to troubleshoot new water-testing equipment. Jeanne Chwasciak, a lab scientist who supervises the lab in question, asked if she could answer, but House Finance Chairman Neal Kurk did not allow her to speak. She later told reporters the laid-off lab worker was the only one trained to fix software problems with the equipment. She said it will cost $2,500 to train a new person.
“She leaves Thursday. That knowledge leaves with her,” Chwasciak said. Meanwhile, testing on water samples – such as those sought to complete home sales – will take longer to do, she said.