Proposed cuts dominated the discussion when the Rockland County Legislature Budget & Finance Committee continued its budget review process Thursday by meeting with officials from the Department of General Services.
Much of the meeting focused on 19 people being cut from the department in the proposed budget, totaling 16.5 full-time positions. The dispute over the eliminated positions was due to the CSEA contract signed earlier this year, which said there couldn’t be layoffs due to budgetary reasons. Budget & Finances Committee Chair Ilan Schoenberger said the contract allows for layoffs for programatic reasons.
Part of the reason Schoenberger said he felt the cuts might be for budgetary reasons is because Department of General Services Commissioner Gerald Walsh said the department received a bid from a security company that already has a rate contracted with the state, and that company would work on an hourly rate. The department wouldn’t be responsible for vacations, benefits or pensions.
“When you say to me, we’re going to take these people, they’re going to be laid off or terminated, we’re going to replace them with somebody else who’s going to do the same job they did, but is going to cost us less, it sure sounds like budgetary to me,” Schoenberger said. “I’m going to be saying this as we progress along with some of these departments, I’m going to say it now with this one and I’m going to be repeating it and you’re going to hear from me: the government gave its word, the government signed the contract, and we are obligated to keep the word of the government. Now, I don’t know how we’re going to find the money for this or for some of the other layoffs that are budgetary and not programatic, at least in my opinion.”
Rockland County CSEA President P.T. Thomas said the union felt that the 16.5 positions being cut in the proposed budget are for budgetary reasons, and that the CSEA planned for fight to keep them. Schoenberger said multiple times he doesn’t plan on letting positions be cut for budgetary reasons either.
“To me, if they are budgetary, smell budgetary, look budgetary, behave budgetary, they are budgetary, and the government gave its word and I’m going to do what I can to keep the word of the government,” he said. “I understand the administration may see things differently, and that’s their privilege. We voted on the contract, we approved it. I know what I voted for when I approved those contracts and I’m not going to break my word and I’m not going to break the word of the government.”
There were also discrepancies over just how much cutting those 16.5 positions would actually save. According to the department, cutting the positions would save $773,453. However, Rockland County Legislature Fiscal Analyst Nicole Doliner provided data that said after cutting the positions, but factoring in the security contract, deferred payment, unemployment and estimated vacation time, the savings are $316,071. She said she didn’t have exact vacation time and had to estimate it for all the employees, and that same employees have been with the department for a long time, and thus might have a lot more vacation time saved up.
Another dispute came from 2.5 vacancies in the department Walsh said they would want to fill. The positions are a stationary engineer, maintenance helper and half of a split cleaning position. Walsh said the stationary engineer is especially important because that position is for someone to work in a boiler room, which requires 24-hour supervision seven days a week. He said there are four people who work the position now, but they usually staff five and have a few hours of overlap during the week.
“The loss of this person is causing us to go into an overtime situation, so it’s costing us more to run this way,” Walsh said. “Plus, the men are getting burned out, too.”
Schoenberger said that while he knows it’s going to make things more difficult for departments, department heads should start assuming that any vacant positions won’t be filled.
“We’re at the point that we are, we have been and will continue to cut positions that are needed because we really don’t have a choice,” Legislator Alden Wolfe said. “That’s where we are.”
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