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After cuts, WV tobacco prevention employees relocated

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Owen Walker (right), a nine-year employee of the Division of Tobacco Prevention, stands to speak to the West Virginia Personnel Board during its meeting Thursday. This was the first state meeting in Building 3 after its years-long renovation. Walker and other tobacco prevention workers will have different jobs with the Department of Health and Human Resources tarting in September.

Employees with the West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention have been relocated after the Legislature zeroed out the office’s funding in this year’s budget.

After losing nearly $3 million in taxpayer funds, all but one employee in the division has been transferred to different state jobs within the Department of Health and Human Resources, as reported at Thursday’s State Personnel Board meeting.

“I am happy to report that all of the individuals have been offered and accepted positions,” said Mischelle Williams, director of the office of human resources management.

The remaining employee, Jim Kerrigan, the division director, will keep his job.

According to advice shared at the meeting by Lisa Collins, administrative services manager for the Division of Personnel, by keeping one person with the Division of Tobacco Prevention, the state will continue to meet minimum staffing requirements and performance expectations for federal grant money.

Through the DHHR media office, state Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said the Division of Tobacco Prevention now will rely on $1.07 million in federal funding. Gov. Jim Justice originally proposed $3.035 million to complement the federal funds. He said this cut led to the need to transfer the five employees.

“It is troubling that West Virginia continues to lead the nation in tobacco use, which has resulted in numerous cases and deaths linked to heart disease, cancer and stroke,” Gupta said. “The budget reduction further impedes DHHR’s ability to make a positive impact to public health regarding tobacco use. Even with less resources, the department will forge ahead to protect public health.”

Justice allowed the $4.225 billion 2016-17 state budget to become law without his signature. He said he would have liked to have vetoed it because of the heavy spending cuts but that there was not enough time to do so without risking a government shutdown.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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