Allegany County delays and then rejects request for number of budgeted employees

Allegany County is refusing to reveal how many employees have been included in its tentative 2024 county budget, expected to be voted on Wednesday by the Board of Legislators.

Board Chairman W. Brooke Harris of Alfred made the determination in response to a formal appeal of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request by Allegany Hope Community News, which earlier had been ignored by no response having been received within the time frame required by law.

It is one of four Appeals in regard to financial records which were forced to be filed within the past month due to non-response by the county.

The salary information FOIL request was for the number of county employees authorized, by department, title and base salary on the last day of 2022, as of the day prior to submission of next year’s tentative budget to the Board, and the number included in the tentative budget for next year.

Some information provided
Harris provided a list of 723 full and part-time positions at the end of last year and 740 on October 31, 2023, but said this did not include unfilled titles “because Allegany County cannot retrieve the data of authorized vacant employee positions without investing in new programming or altering its existing programming, which is the equivalent of creating a new record and is not required under Public Officers Law.”

He didn’t explain how the county was going to fill a vacant but authorized position if it doesn’t have a method for finding that it exists.

Public discovery only after Board acts
He also determined that the number of positions included in the tentative budget, which underwent a public hearing on November 30, wouldn’t be made available “because the 2024 budget and its contents have not yet been finalized and adopted by the Allegany County Board of Legislators.”

The decision appears to contradict the FOIL which specifically provides for public disclosure of “statistical or factual tabulations or data,” which even includes statistical or factual tabulations of the state legislature.

Some new positions known
Allegany Hope Community News is aware of at least 13 new full-time and part-time positions which have been authorized this year by the Board of Legislators, and are part of its records, but don’t appear to be included in the data provided by the chairman.

These records, which include two new deputy county administrator positions, were ignored in the chairman’s response.

Any new positions which may have been included in the tentative budget but haven’t yet been approved specifically or discussed by the Board, and their costs, are unknown.

Amount of escalating costs elusive
The amount of county salary costs isn’t easily available through budget documents due to the way such numbers are apportioned.

However, the general fund budget shows fringe benefits costs of $4,899,382.56 for 2022 and $6.65 million budgeted for next year, accounting for a $1.75 million or 35.7 percent increase between the numbers in just two years.

This doesn’t include fringe benefits for highway or a few other employees which appear in separate funds.