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Athens Co. jobs face relocation

COLUMBUS — Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, is adding his voice to calls for Gov. John Kasich and his administration to consider alternatives to closing 13 Ohio Department of Job and Family Services regional offices.

The consolidations, which are slated to begin this spring, will save the department an estimated $2 million per year without losing any jobs, but critics say the moves will hurt more than 500 workers, their families and areas across the state.

Commissioners in Athens County, where one of the offices is located, wrote to Kasich and department director Michael Colbert asking them to reconsider the consolidations and offering to house employees in a county building free of charge.

The department plans to close the local office, which would save an estimated $230,000 per year, and move the 47 employees to an office in Columbus for a one-time cost of about $18,000. The employees would not lose their jobs but rather commute to Columbus.

Spokesman Benjamin Johnson said the commissioners’ alternative would cut into the state’s savings because cutting costs for supervisors, IT and other services “would not be available” in the Athens County office.

“Moving into the county office is not a viable option,” Johnson said.

Though the call-center jobs are not tied to any one location, Gentile and union representatives said the workers benefit local economies, and the three to four hour commute to and from Columbus will hurt workers and their families.

Gentile, who represents most of Athens County and whose district has two offices slated to be closed, said the department missed out on an opportunity to work with local government to eliminate costs and streamline operations — something the Kasich administration has been advocating, Gentile said.

“There was no dialogue, and then the decision came down,” Gentile said. “It’s important to have good-paying, state jobs in other places than Columbus.”

Athens County had 6.6 percent unemployment in December and a poverty rate of about 32 percent, which doubles the state’s rate of 16 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

“More often than not, we lose jobs down here,” said Jack Frech, director of Athens County Job and Family Services.

Johnson said the consolidation will save money without losing jobs, allowing other offices — including Marietta and Chillicothe — to expand in coming years.

Ryan Clark is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. Email him at

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