ALBANY - A state Office of the Budget official said this week the Department of Environmental Conservation will only shed another 87 employees because of Gov. David A. Paterson's decision to cut another 2,000 state jobs.
But multiple sources - including DEC employees - contest the budget office's claim the state's environmental regulatory body will shed this few. These sources predicted DEC will actually hemorrhage another 209 employees due to Paterson's mandated reductions.
Reacting to the news, State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, said DEC is already understaffed and further cuts could cripple the regulatory agency.
"We're seeing right now that roads will be closed that typically wouldn't be closed to our hunters. We have so many issues with DEC as it is," she said. "We just can't suffer one more cut."
Jessica Bassett, spokeswoman for the Office of the Budget, offered a conservative estimate of potential layoffs.
"That can be layoffs, it can be attrition, it can be regular retirements that happen between now and the end of the year," she said. "But layoffs are one way to get that 87 reduction."
The position eliminations will only boost the loss of 272 DEC employees recently shed as a result of the recent state retirement incentive program. Tuesday was the last day of work for those who accepted the buyout.
The additional forced layoffs and position eliminations have been initiated because the response to the retirement incentive package fell short of state officials' expectations.
Bassett said state agency commissioners were just notified of the further reductions this week. She added the local impacts of the cuts to DEC are still unknown.
"The agencies just got their targets on Monday and Tuesday so agencies and the budget division are working together on how to make those reductions," she said.
There's also some confusion about how the workforce reductions will impact the Adirondack Park Agency.
Bassett said the plan will require the elimination of another three positions at the agency. These cuts would be on top of the cuts already made during last spring's state budgeting process that forced the closure of the APA-run visitor interpretive centers. She said the APA workforce would be reduced to 56 employees.
Regardless of the exact number of eliminations - especially at DEC-the cuts have local leaders and environmentalists concerned.
Besides her protest over the DEC cuts, Sayward said she doesn't think the elimination of another three APA jobs is appropriate either.
"I hear from people all the time, the difficulty of getting answers and the turn-around time at the Adirondack Park Agency," she said. "I would only guess that with fewer employees, it's only going to get worse."
Adirondack Council executive director Brian Houseal said he was also concerned.
"We have no idea how it's going to impact the Forest Preserve," he said.
Assuming the budget office's figures prove accurate, the total workforce reduction will reduce DEC's statewide ranks to 2,926 employees.
The Civil Service Employees Association has already filed a suit against Paterson because of the layoffs.
Paterson argues he had no choice but to layoff state employees, because the employee unions would not accept concessions in order to achieve the $250 million workforce savings he was seeking. The state remains in a current-year multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
The reduction of another 2,000 employees equates to about 1 percent of the state workforce.