Position now part-time, could save $60K annually
By Holly Toal
The Putnam County legislature has approved the hiring of a new director of the department of consumer affairs, following the resignation in February of Jean Noel after she pleaded guilty to embezzlement of county funds.
The legislators appointed Michael Budzinski to the post, which will now be part-time, a move expected to save the county about $60,000 a year.
County Executive MaryEllen Odell recommended Budzinski, a longtime health department employee from Patterson, to lead the agency, officially called the Department of Consumer Affairs/Weights and Measures/Trades Licensing and Registration. Budzinski, who earns $110,000 as director of engineering in the health department’s environmental health bureau, will add the duties of consumer affairs to his current role for an additional $20,000 annually.
The full-time consumer affairs position was budgeted for $80,000 to $85,000. Personnel Director Paul Eldridge said that under the county executive’s proposal, Budzinski would spend about 20 to 25 percent of his time in the consumer affairs office and thus earn about a quarter of that salary.
Noel, who lives in Kent, resigned after the New York State Comptroller’s Office discovered she had stolen $4,575 in cash payments made to her office.
Eldridge, who said he has known Budzinski since he started with the county 34 years ago, called him a “top-notch” individual. “I’m very pleased with this particular selection,” he told lawmakers at a prior Personnel Committee meeting.
With the county administration looking to save money, Eldridge explained that he was asked to look into the pool of county employees to see if there was anyone qualified and interested in leading the consumer affairs department.
“Budzinski was one of the first individuals that came to mind,” he said. “He’s very excited about it. He’s qualified fully for the position.”
Budzinski has worked for the health department since 1982 after graduating from Clarkson University with a bachelor of science degree in civil environmental engineering. He has been a New York State-licensed professional engineer since 1987. He served as assistant public health engineer from 1982 to 1985, as public health engineer from 1986 to 1988, as senior public health engineer from 1989 to 1997, and as director of engineering since 1998.
The appointment is provisional since the position requires passage of the civil service exam, which Budzinski will need to take. The part-time contract ends on Dec. 31, when legislators could consider hiring a full-time director if the arrangement isn’t working out.
Eldridge said Budzinski will still be expected to maintain the same workload in the health department, and that Budzinski understands he may have to put in time after regular working hours to fulfill his new role.
Eldridge added that he is confident a part-time director is sufficient for the agency. He said that in the wake of the department shakeup earlier this year, the employees have shown they can keep the department running smoothly.
“They’ve really stepped up,” he said.
The only dissenting vote against the appointment came from Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) who said she opposed making the position part-time. “It devalues the department,” she said. “It opens the door for people to cheat consumers.”
LoBue cited the discovery of Noel’s theft earlier this year as a reason to enforce more stringent controls. “We need more oversight, not less,” she said. “I do not believe we are saving any money. We’re going in the wrong direction.”