Cor­rec­tions agency be­gins hir­ing freeze

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY BAR­BARA HOBEROCK Tulsa World bar­bara.hoberock@tul­saworld.com

Cit­ing un­cer­tainty with the cur­rent fis­cal year bud­get, the Oklahoma Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions on Wed­nes­day an­nounced a hir­ing freeze.

The freeze would ap­ply to all posts ex­cept for cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, food ser­vice work­ers and main­te­nance staff. It also would not ap­ply to those with em­ploy­ment of­fers al­ready on the ta­ble.

“Nearly 90 per­cent of our bud­get falls into four cat­e­gories,” said Oklahoma Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions Di­rec­tor Joe M. All­baugh. “That does not leave much wig­gle room. We can’t just close the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions to save money.

“There­fore, I have put this agency on a hir­ing freeze un­til un­cer­tainty with the fis­cal year 2018 bud­get — a year which is more than half over — gets re­solved.”

The ac­tion comes in the wake of the House's re­jec­tion of a rev­enue pack­age Mon­day that would have pro­vided a $5,000 teacher pay raise and fund­ing for core gov­ern­ment ser­vices. The rev­enue pack­age — which in­cluded hikes in the gaso­line tax, ci­garette tax, a new tax on re­new­able en­ergy and in­creas­ing the gross pro­duc­tion tax to 4 per­cent from 2 per­cent — was part of the Step Up Oklahoma plan sup­ported by busi­ness and civic lead­ers.

State pol­icy mak­ers are plan­ning to make an ad­di­tional $45 mil­lion in cuts to state agen­cies as a re­sult of the fail­ure of the mea­sure. Gov. Mary Fallin was ex­pected to amend her sec­ond spe­cial ses­sion call to in­clude bud­get cuts.

The prison sys­tem has been plagued by staff short­ages, over­crowded fa­cil­i­ties and se­ri­ous main­te­nance prob­lems.

State in­sti­tu­tions are op­er­at­ing at 113 per­cent of ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment.

The agency has asked for $1.5 bil­lion for the up­com­ing fis­cal year, an in­crease of slightly more than $1 bil­lion from last year.

The re­quest in­cludes $813 mil­lion for two new medium-se­cu­rity pris­ons. Also, cur­rent fa­cil­i­ties need mil­lions in re­pairs, All­baugh has said.

Mean­while, the fall­out over the failed rev­enue bill con­tin­ued Wed­nes­day.

Tulsa Re­gional Cham­ber Pres­i­dent and CEO Mike Neal sent his mem­bers a let­ter with the names of those who voted for and against the mea­sure. “We at the Tulsa Re­gional Cham­ber re­main ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed by this fail­ure,” Neal’s let­ter said.

The let­ter went to 7,000 mem­bers, mul­ti­ple rep­re­sen­ta­tives from var­i­ous com­pa­nies and its re­gional part­ners.

Neal said it was an at­tempt to hold law­mak­ers ac­count­able, adding that fail­ure to se­cure ap­proval for the mea­sure was a huge fail­ure and an ex­treme missed op­por­tu­nity.

He said the busi­ness com­mu­nity is beg­ging for fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions from all sides and im­me­di­ate re­con­sid­er­a­tion from those who voted against it.

[THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO]

The max­i­mum se­cu­rity cell­block at the North Fork Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Sayre is shown in this photo from 2016.

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