Hardin County native Steve Gray has spent about 30 years of his career with the state Division of Forestry at the division office in Elizabethtown.
The office where he has spent so much of his time working has been open since 1949, helping with forest fire control, assisting with forest management, inspecting logging work for water quality violations, running educational programs in schools and conducting other work.
Gray will start packing his boxes soon for the closing of the office as he and other staff members there move to work in the office in Campbellsville or other parts of the state.
Staff members learned about 10 days ago the local office is closing and the 12 full-time and five interim staff members are expected to be offered other state jobs, Gray said.
“We knew something was coming, but we had high hopes that we’d be able to stay here,” he said.
The change is coming because the Division of Forestry has been operating with a budget shortfall for several years.
Department employees have long been looking for ways to be efficient and cost-effective, but have been unable to completely meet the shortfall, department spokesman Dick Brown said.
This fiscal year’s shortfall is estimated to be $1.2 million.
In other years, other Energy and Environmental Cabinet agencies were able to make up the money by shifting their own general fund dollars to the Forestry Department.
They are no longer able to do so, which means department leaders can no longer avoid reducing the number of state offices, Brown said.
The statewide reorganization plan calls for the nine district offices to shift to five regional offices.
The Campbellsville office is planned to support Hardin County and 25 other counties, compared to the 16 counties for which the office in Elizabethtown was responsible for.
Gray has been placed in charge of the office in Campbellsville, and his title has been changed from district forester to regional forester for the Central Region.
The change is expected to impact all Division of Forestry employees.
Each employee has been offered a position within the department, another agency within the Energy and Environmental Cabinet or another state agency outside the cabinet. Their pay and benefits aren’t expected to change.
Gray is worried having a smaller staff to cover nearly twice the area will reduce the amount of help Division of Forestry employees can offer and will give them a longer response time for helping firefighters stop forest fires.
“It’s just going to take longer to do everything we do,” he said.
The office in Elizabethtown generally stays busy overseeing about 200,000 acres of wooded area, Gray said.
There likely will be about twice as much woods-covered area in the newly formed region, he said.
Gray said he doesn’t know yet where all of his coworkers will be assigned and whether they’ll all choose to move or make longer commutes to keep their jobs.
“Most are disappointed, somewhat discouraged,” he said.
Gray is planning on commuting for more than an hour so he can continue living near his family members.
Several staff members likely will face similar situations, he said.
The move should begin in May, and the leased building in Elizabethtown is likely to be vacated by the end of June.