By Jim Schroeder
Seasonal jobs may go unfilled at the Montana departments of Transportation and Fish, Wildlife and Parks under a hiring freeze brought on by the state's budget woes.
With a projected budget shortfall of nearly $250 million next year, more seasonal jobs in other agencies also are in jeopardy, state budget director Chuck Swysgood said last week.
Michael Johnson, Great Falls district administrator for MDT, said state road service in winter will likely be affected.
"If the (hiring) freeze lasts through the snow, we'll have a lot of overtime," Johnson said. "Soon we'll see service reduction."
The hiring freeze is a result of an executive order by Gov. Judy Martz just before the special legislative session in August. The Legislature also passed a bill that froze hiring for statewide elected officials. Both hiring freezes will remain in effect for the 2003 fiscal year.
The short-term effects of the hiring freeze could cause MDT workers to work overtime and on weekends, Johnson said.
"But you know we can't do that forever," Johnson added. "It's going to impact."
The Great Falls District of the MDT covers highways and various secondary roads from Helena to Canada and from Dodson to East Glacier.
The hiring freeze allows statewide executive agencies to promote workers but doesn't allow their former positions to be filled unless it's approved by the state Office of Budget and Program Planning, Swysgood said.
"It's very complex and every position has its own set of criteria for determining the necessity of that being filled or not," Swysgood said. "Those positions deemed critical for the health and safety of the public will be filled, but they will have to go through a process to be filled.
"We work with agencies on a daily basis to fulfill a request for a position under the hiring freeze," Swysgood added.
Johnson said the MDT construction engineer position held by Doug Gregory, who is retiring, was filled by Doug Wilmot, but Wilmot's former job position can't be filled with the hiring freeze in place.
"I assume a snowplow operator is a critical position and I assume that it would be filled, temporary or otherwise," Swysgood said.
Doug Denler, chief of the Human Resources Bureau for FWP, said the hiring freeze by FWP has had some effects on the hiring of employees.
"There are a lot of worries about this," Denler said. "We have seasonal needs."
Denler said the department needs to hire seasonal creel clerks for the 2003 spring fishing season to gather information and data about fish that's based on fishermen's catches. The hiring of creel clerks would have to be approved by the budget office, Denler said.
"We will have to continue monitoring this throughout the rest of the year," Swysgood said. "At the present time the revenue picture doesn't look very promising. It's difficult times."