Those needing diagnostic testing and other services from the state Depart-ment of Agriculture's regional office may face delays due to staff cuts.
The regional office, in Cricket Plaza in Altoona, lost one of its two full-time receptionists in mid-August, said Dr. Elizabeth Santini, the veterinary medical field officer who works from the office.
The office serves Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin and Somerset counties.
Besides the receptionist, the others in the office are field officers like Santini, who work throughout the region.
"If the other secretary's on vacation, or off sick, or has to go do something or whatever, there are going to be times ... that the phones don't get answered," Santini said. "The caller gets routed to the appropriate supervisor's phone mail, and they can leave a message for me. It's tough. On my message I have my cell phone number, but there's no guarantee I can answer my cell phone in any given part of the region."
The department lost 96 positions across the state, said Justin Fleming, agriculture press secretary. Fifty-seven of those positions had been filled; the others were cut through early retirement and attrition.
Fleming said the positions were cut because of the budget Gov. Ed Rendell proposed for the department in February, which was $29.6 million, down from $31.34 million in the previous year.
"There was a variety of things the department did, and unfortunately that included a reduction of the staff," Fleming said. "There may be some delays, but we're going to continue do the things we've done and that the department is mandated to do."
It's not clear whether the department will face additional cuts.
"It's going to depend on what the budget looks like, and right now, there is no budget," Fleming said. "I can't really speculate one way or the other."
Mirror Staff Writer Ashley Gurbal is at 946-7435.