EPCOG approves budget, cuts staff

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Interim Director Richard Arguello of Union County, center, directs the Eastern Plains Council of Governments meeting Wednesday at Leal’s Mexican Food Restaurant. The board adopted a reduced budget that will eliminate almost a third of its staff.

By Robin Fornoff: Content editor

The Eastern Plains Council of Governments cut almost a third of its staff Wednesday while approving a significantly reduced budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

The EPCOG board approved the $1.9 million budget at its annual meeting held at Leal’s Mexican Food Restaurant.

It’s a $3.5 million bottom-line reduction in the budget from the current year — the bulk of the money lost because of changes in a state program to assist the unemployed.

[image#1, align=right, size=medium] Interim Director Richard Arguello said the new budget will mean layoffs for five of the agency’s 17-member staff. His announcement sparked spirited debated from board member and Grady Mayor Wesley Schafer, who questioned Arguello’s handling of the matter.

Arguello said while some of the five employees affected are longtime EPCOG employees, the budget doesn’t allow any severance package.

Schafer questioned Arguello on why none of the affected employees had received a letter of notice. Arguello said because he is still consulting with lawyers to determine how to properly handle the matter.

“You’ve got to consider these people and give them a hearing and let them know what’s going on,” said Schafer. “It’s not just you who is going to wind up in court on this. It’s going to be the whole board.”

Arguello declined to specify names of individuals affected. He did say all are associated with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Family Training (TANF) program administered by EPCOG for the Eastern Area Workforce Development Board (EAWDB).

EPCOG is the fiscal agent for the workforce board, administering TANF and other state and federally funded programs.

The workforce board is a consortium of regional public, private and community leaders who administered the TANF program for the New Mexico Human Services Department. Arguello said all that changes June 30 because earlier this year the state opted to change the TANF program and sought new bids from agencies like the workforce board.

Arguello said the changes sought by the state were so significant, the workforce board decided not to bid.

Last year, TANF accounted for $2.2 million in the EPCOG budget. The rest of the $1.3 million of the total budget shortfall was a one-time federal stimulus grant.

Bottom line, said Arguello, is there is no longer any money coming into EPCOG to administer the TANF program and all employees associated with it will be out of work June 30.

“Every employee at the COG is aware when a program is eliminated … their jobs could be eliminated, too,” Arguello said. “It’s a very tough situation but when the workforce board chose not to respond to the (state) RFP (request for proposal), there was nothing else we can do about it.”

After the reduced budget was approved, Schafer was elected secretary of the EPCOG board.

Portales City Councilman Gary Watkins was elected the new chairman and DeBaca County representative Pow Carter was elected vice-chairman.

Watkins and Schafer — the only two to vote against the budget and layoffs — called for a special meeting. It is set for 2 p.m. June 18 at EPCOG headquarters in Clovis.

“We need more input,” Schafer said after the meeting. “I just don’t feel we, the board, were involved or informed enough about this.”

A spokesperson for EPCOG said the bill from Leal’s for the lunch meeting attended by about two dozen board members and EPCOG staff totaled $586.