2011-07-07 / Local & State

Confusion Still Surrounds EARN Program

Commissioners meet with Common Pleas judge
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Having learned in late May that a neighboring county’s CareerLink office will no longer be overseeing Fulton County’s welfare-to-work style-program, the Fulton County commissioners received even more devastating news this week regarding the future of the program that typically serves between 5 and 10 county residents at a time.

On May 24, the commissioners received notification from Terry Sheffield and Barbara Covert of the Huntingdon County Career- Link that a three-year contract to operate the Employment Advancement and Retention Network (EARN) program was recently awarded to the Center for Community Action.

CareerLink has spearheaded the program locally over the past five years and in prior years was overseen by Fulton County Employment and Training. The program’s mission is to help individuals become self-sufficient without government assistance and move them back into the workforce.

Sheffield and Covert told the commissioners the possibility exists that Center for Community Action may not follow through with establishing a local office. An EARN employee would in turn float between the three-county region of Fulton, Bedford and Huntingdon. A lack of familiarity between participants and staff as well as no set office space could be a huge setback for local clients, it was noted.

The commissioners continued their discussion on the future of the EARN program this week with Ed Silvetti, executive director of Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission. Silvetti stated only last Tuesday it was announced EARN will see a statewide reduction in funding by an approximate 48 percent. As a result, it is unknown if contractors, such as Center for Community Action, will be willing or able to follow through with their services.

Silvetti stated it would be unacceptable for a provider to only operate EARN for six to seven months and say they were done for the remainder of the contract year. “The program must be run at a certain level,” said the Southern Alleghenies director, who agreed to contact Senator John Eichelberger in the hope that a meeting can be established with Department of Community of Economic Development officials.

Commissioner David Hoover II also expressed his concern over the future of the weatherization program. “People don’t know who Center for Community Action is, but they know what weatherization is because it is a program that has been around for years,” Hoover said.

The commissioners met with Silvetti behind closed doors as well to review personnel matters at Southern Alleghenies. Silvetti was also consulted regarding a pending agreement with Fulton Industrial Development Association.

Fulton County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Douglas Herman was accompanied by court administrator Mark Singer and Fulton County Chief Probation Officer Daniel Miller to discuss a request for the upcoming 2012 budget. The judge asked the county to hire an additional adult probation officer that would be funded in part by state money. A salary for the position would be established through the existing union contract with probation.

Judge Herman went on to discuss the purchase of an information kiosk by Franklin County through Act 35 monthly supervision fees. Offenders will be able to enter their own information into the system in order to save a probation officer’s time.

A letter sent by the commissioners was acknowledged by Herman, who in turn approved reimbursement of several security-related matters implemented in the new probation office located in the basement of the Neighborhood Service Center. Among the items reimbursed through Act 35 were additional security ($1,693); bullet proof glass ($6,802); and a new drug-testing lab ($10,700).

Herman also broached the topic of payment of court reporters for the preparation of transcripts. The president judge explained an agreement between Franklin County and court reporters and indicated an attempt was made to cost out the court reporter fees on an annual basis to help determine the correct salary. Fulton County’s court reporter invoices were excluded at the time. In the event Fulton County would begin to pay court reporter invoices, payment arrangements could become effective in 2012.

Business manager Tim Stanton discussed hiring a temporary, part-time individual to assist at the office of Magisterial District Judge Carol Jean Johnson.

Stanton also presented the commissioners with a request for his joining the Government Finance Officers Association. The Department of Community and Economic Development recommends participation in the group, Stanton said, and money has been included in the current budget to cover membership expenses.

Stanton further discussed computerized assessments used during hiring practices that would help assess the aptitude and attitude of potential employees. The assessments will be included in the county’s hiring policy.

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