Lack of available staff cited as

reason for the cut

BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN

TOWANDA - If you need a passport to travel to another country, you'll no longer be able apply for one at the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda.

The Bradford County Prothonotary's Office, which is located in the courthouse, has announced that it will no longer accept applications for U.S. passports, effective Sept. 30.

To apply for a passport, citizens will need to go to the Troy Post Office or travel to a passport application office in one of the surrounding counties.

Bradford County Prothonotary Sally Fairchild Vaughn said her office does not have enough staff to process the passport applications. She said the office has been very busy with its main function, which is serving as a filing office for court documents.

The Prothonotary's Office is not required to serve as site to apply for passports, Vaughn added.

The Prothonotary's Office would continue to process passport applications "if we weren't so backed up and so stressed out trying to keep up with the court-related functions in our office."

Vaughn explained that two of her full-time employees have been on medical leave this year, leaving her office without 40 hours of employee time each week since the beginning of the year. The first employee went on medical leave in January, and then, shortly before she returned, the second employee went on medical leave, she said.

The second employee, who was the primary employee who processed passport applications, might return in November, but it's not known if she will return at all, Vaughn said.

Vaughn said she sent a letter to the Bradford County commissioners two or three months ago asking them to double the work hours of two of her part-time employees, who currently work 20 hours per week, in order to make up for the lost 40 hours of employee time.

However, she said the commissioners did not agree to her request.

Vaughn said that after the commissioners refused to increase the part-timers' hours, the solicitor for the Prothonotary's Office, Frank Niemiec, "advised me to cut services" due to the lack of staff. The passport service is the only service that the Prothonotary's Office is cutting, Vaughn noted.

"I just had to make some hard decisions," Vaughn said, adding that it took her a long time to decide to end the passport service.

She said that the two employees who were out on medical leave were mostly on unpaid medical leave, since the only pay they would have received were sick days and unused vacation time. Therefore, the county could have used money it saved by not paying the two full-timers' salaries to increase the part-timers' hours, Vaughn said.

Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller said the county commissioners have no role in deciding whether or not the county operates a passport service. "It's her (Vaughn's) choice to do it or not," Miller said.

Miller said the commissioners "at this point in time" have decided not to increase the part-timers' hours.

Miller said that the budget for the Prothonotary's Office for 2013 was adopted at the end of 2012 and that Vaughn needs to operate her office within the amount of money that was budgeted for it. "We all have to do that," he added.

Miller pointed out that increasing the part-timers' hours to full-time would have also meant that the county would have had to pay them increased benefits.

From January through August of 2013, the Bradford County Prothonotary's Office processed 434 applications for passports, Vaughn said.

Passport application fees, along with fees for passport photos, generate over $20,000 a year in revenue to the county's General Fund, Vaughn said.

Vaughn said that if the county commissioners were to provide funding in the future for additional hours for her employees "I would consider doing passports (having a passport application service) again."

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.