County Consolidating DSS Office Staff To City
The Chautauqua County Department of Social Services is moving ahead with a plan to consolidate some of its operations to the southern end of the county. However, officials insist there will be no difference noticed by members of the community who need assistance.
According to Christine Schuyler, director of the county Department Health and Human Services, the county is in the process of moving out of the Graf Building on Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The office staff for the Adult, Children and Family Services Division is moving to Jamestown, a process that actually started three years ago.
“An independent facility-based cost savings analysis conducted by an outside firm in 2019 recommended such a consolidation. Findings from study of comparable counties found that it is common place for such services to be offered from only a single site,” she said in an email to her staff. “Only Ontario County maintains a second social services office for Temporary Assistance to serve the concentration of need in the City of Geneva.”
Schuyler noted that the capital project was given final approval in 2020; however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay. “They’re finally at a place where they are ready to move forward with the move,” she said.
Schuyler noted that most of the staff in the Adult, Children and Family Services Division consists of field/home visits that do not require a large office presence. “It is not practical or financially sound to maintain large office spaces for this type of operation in three sites across the county,” she said. “Especially with the implementation of the telework policy, the vast majority of staff has the ability to complete their duties without having to go into a county office every day.”
Schuyler said drop-in locations/hubs will be maintained in Dunkirk and Mayville to support field staff who need to print, copy or perform other office duties when in the field. County cars and other necessary equipment to perform field work will also be available.
“In addition to financial efficiencies, I expect to see greater consistency in day to day operations and policy and protocol implementation as well as a higher level of support for supervisors and staff,” she said in her email. “We have seen this in other divisions whose staff cover the entire county such as Environmental Health and Early Intervention that consolidated from three office locations to one office location several years ago.”
In a follow up phone call interview, Schuyler insisted the general public will not notice any of these changes. The Adult, Children and Family Services Division includes adult protection, child protection and children’s services including foster care and adoption.
“While the consolidation of major office space will occur in Jamestown, I fully expect that all of the work of all of the staff in this division will continue, just like it currently does,” she said.
Employees who work in this division make home and field visits and do not need to visit a brick and mortar building on a daily basis. “This division does not require people to come into our offices. If anything, our offices are more traumatic for these clients than anywhere else. It’s important that we meet them in the community. That’s the type of work that this is,” she said.
According to Schuyler, it’s the supervisors who are most impacted, because they will be transferred from the Graf building or the Hall R. Clothier Building in Mayville to Jamestown. She estimated this would be about 10 staff members.
Schuyler noted that things have changed quite a bit over the last few years. “We used to have a large amount of paperwork that needed to be done and things that you needed to come to the office for. That’s all changed in this electronic world,” she said.
The South County Office Building, which is located on East Fourth Street in Jamestown, previously housed The Chautauqua Center. Since it moved out, there is plenty of space inside for a consolidated offices. However, Schuyler said there is some remodeling that needs to be finished before transferring the office staff to Jamestown. She expects the staff to be transferred sometime this summer.
The county is actively seeking a location for its north county public facing staff, including public assistance, temporary assistance and Medicaid. She said the Graf Building is too large for just those offices.
The departments of Probation and Mental Health are in the process of relocating to 60-62 Franklin Ave., Dunkirk.
Schuyler believes these moves will benefit taxpayers. “This really is about government efficiency and reducing our footprint that we don’t need with the technology that we have today. The services will not be reduced. Any access to services like temporary assistance and Medicaid that people need to walk in and see our staff one on one in our offices, is not changing,” she said.
John Sedota, the executive vice president for CSEA Unit 6300/Local 807 was asked about the move. He sent the following statement: “CSEA has recently learned of a plan to terminate Adult, Children, and Family Services in Dunkirk and Mayville with the intention of moving those services to Jamestown. While we are always concerned at the potential for diminished services when we hear of such closures, we do not yet have enough information to comment further at this point. We are actively involved in conversations and will reserve further comment until we have all the facts.”