State budget director says governor's priority is to hold back on adding state employees

At a meeting with budget staff last week, Department of Transportation Secretary Carolann Wicks made the case for more full-time employees to help process drivers’ licenses at Division of Motor Vehicles, but the state’s budget director wasn’t necessarily convinced.

Wicks said DelDOT could use a 1% increase in its General Fund budget next year, amounting to roughly $840,000 of the $142.7 million total request.

Part of the additional funding would go to convert 24 part-time DMV staff to full-time positions. Wicks said the DMV needs employees it can train to handle new procedures required by the federal government to issue Real ID-compliant drivers’ licenses.

“The secure ID involves a review of Social Security information, all of our processes are focused on fraudulent documents,” Wicks told budget staff at a Nov. 19 hearing in Dover. “And, the actual number of people coming into [DMV centers] is going up.”

Jennifer Cohan, DMV director, said part-time employees with training and experience in issuing the new licenses leave as soon as they find full-time employment. Those hired to fill vacant part-time slots need up to six months worth of on-the-job training, which is wasted if they leave, she said.

Wicks also said the DMV locations in New Castle and Wilmington need to convert their security staffs, currently comprised of state Troopers, to full-time to handle larger crowds.

“Our New Castle facility is very small and limited, there’s a lot more people in one place,” she said. “A police presence is helpful.”

Despite their reasoning, Budget Director Ann Visalli said Gov. Jack Markell intends to toe the line on increasing the number of state employees in his fiscal year 2012 recommended budget.

“With [full-time employees] comes pension benefits, heath benefits, which are cost drivers,” Visalli said. “Then, we’re dealing with an external emphasis on the growth of government.”

The budget director suggested Wicks do as other state agencies have and move around employees from other divisions to cover critical needs.

“The need may be very real, but the solution needs to be real creative, rather than just adding full-time positions,” she said.

For DelDOT’s capital budget authorization, Wicks requested a total of $198.2 million be included for her agency in the yearly bond bill. Most of that — $144.5 million — would be for roadwork.

Last year, DelDOT was authorized $126 million in the bond bill.

Major capital projects that would begin receiving money from next year’s authorization would include planning for an interchange where Route 1 crosses Route 30 in Millsboro, as well as preliminary construction on a fourth set of passenger railway tracks between Newark and Wilmington.

Wicks’ capital budget also includes $5 million for heavy equipment, including snow removal hardware.

She said DelDOT learned after last winter’s record storms that it needs to spend a little bit more on its fleet of snow machines to keep them in good repair and ready to clear roads.

Wicks also stressed that the capital budget request may seem like a big number, but it will be spent on projects that take the state a few years into the future.

“This is not a reflection of the amount of money we’ll spend in 2012, it’s the beginning of a phase,” she said.

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