SCRANTON — If the governor’s proposed budget is approved as submitted, it could lead to the closure of five of the state’s eight civil service testing centers, including the ones in Scranton and Allentown.
That would require residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania to travel at least two hours to take a civil service test. The centers administer tests for hundreds of positions at the local, county and state level including positions in corrections, social services, maintenance, IT, law enforcement, human resources and transportation.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2014-15 state budget allocates $13.5 million for the Civil Service Commission. That’s a $188,000, or 1.4 percent, decrease from the 2013-14 budget. Just five years ago, the budget was $16 million.
The cut would necessitate the closing of regional testing centers in Lock Haven, Johnstown and Erie, in addition to those in the Lehigh Valley and the one at 135 Franklin Ave., Scranton, commission spokesman Jack McGettigan said.
Those in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would remain open.
For area elected officials, including state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, and state Rep. Kevin Haggerty, D-Dunmore, such an option isn’t appealing. They said thousands of area residents that would be forced to drive a great distance to take a test in the hopes of obtaining a job or landing a better position.
“I am very disappointed with the news that the Scranton Civil Service office is in line to be the next victim of the governor’s budget cuts. We need to find ways to make it easier for Northeastern Pennsylvania residents to find and apply for good, family-sustaining jobs – and by closing the only local civil service office, we are putting even more obstacles in the way of area residents trying to get back on their feet,” Yudichak said.
But Jay Pagni, press secretary for Corbett, disputed the idea that the governor’s budget cut of $188,000 would force any closures of any test centers.
“The math does not seem to support their argument,” Pagni said. “Laying that at the feet of the governor is disingenuous. It’s a business decision made by the PCSC.”
McGettigan noted that right now this is part of the preliminary budget and is subject to change, but the commission felt it was important to notify elected officials in the regions impacted by the closures — essentially the majority of the state — of the possibility.
In a letter sent to Haggerty by Jeffrey T. Wallace, the commission’s executive director, Wallace noted that the closing would take effect at the start of the new fiscal year, which would be July 1.
A Civil Service Commission statement said it “takes the closing issue very seriously. It is not something we want to do, it is something made necessary by the ongoing need to find ways to continue to reduce costs as mandated by the Governor’s Office of the Budget and pursue our mission on behalf of the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
Pagni said the governor’s budget office tried to provide ways to streamline costs, services and back-office responsibilities, not close regional testing centers.
“The decision that the PCSC made is its alone,” Pagni added.
Job cuts, too
During calendar year 2013, more than 25,000 examinations were administered in these slated-to-be-closed centers, including 5,121 in Scranton.
In this region, which has had the highest unemployment rate in the state for 45 consecutive months, any hindrance to the job search process is unacceptable, Haggerty said.
“Imagine you already have a job, but looking to better yourself, and now you might need to take two days off from work. What about people who don’t drive?” Haggerty said.
Christine M. Jensen, the PA CareerLink administrator for Luzerne County, said the local CareerLink refers many to that testing center.
“If they discontinue civil service testing at that office, it will certainly be a burden upon individuals in Luzerne County who will now have to travel to Harrisburg or Philadelphia for testing,” Jensen said.
In addition to the loss of testing centers, the closings would lead to the loss of jobs, McGettigan said, adding the commission’s staff could drop from 121 to 108. Its staffing level was at 170 just five years ago.