OC lawmakers hold marathon budget session
Enticing workers to retire one of the ways they hope to tighten the gap
GOSHEN — In an effort to stave off the possibility of layoffs to balance the county's 2015 budget, the Executive Branch met with legislative committees to find spending cuts and offer retirement incentives to county employees.
It began with a lesson by Human Resources Commissioner Stephen Gross, reading official criteria for laying off civil service employees that was so complex it could comprise a college course.
The mood between the Executive Branch and Legislators was fairly cooperative after months of finger-pointing and name calling. They cut nearly a half-million dollars out of the proposed budget by tabling a backup generator for Valley View, moving the burden of some expenses into different budgets and approving foreclosure sales.
While the cuts don't come close to meeting the $37 million to $60 million gap, the legislators and county executive seemed invigorated it was a beginning.
Legislator Michael Anagnostakis (R-New Windsor) offered a 12-point plan he says will eliminate the deficit entirely, without layoffs. Executive branch said they were all ears and eager to see it.
Details of the savings proposed will be finalized by October, when the budget is due. But meanwhile, the predominant backup plan is to entice eligible county workers to consider early retirement. The numbers are still in flux, and will be reviewed again next week, before the next regular session of the full legislature on Aug. 7. A preliminary list of 50 positions to be eliminated is ready if necessary, and may be followed by hundreds more if other savings are not found.
The likely scenario next week is a finalized chart, with early retirement packages being offered in a range from about $7,500 to $12,500, plus pension and health benefits.
The trade-off, County Attorney Langdon Chapman said, was getting enough return to make it beneficial for the county.
Ulster County, used as a model, received only 18 volunteer resignations. Nassau, which offered more, received more — but, has a larger staff.
The challenge is reaching the number that is both affordable and will entice employees to retire.
Employees being considered for layoff would receive unemployment benefits between $405 to $420 per week, for 26 weeks, from a self-funded program the county maintains. Its current fund balance is just under $1 million. If positions are eliminated it does not necessarily mean the person holding the position is terminated, as civil service positions include a variety of transfer, demotion and possible temporary resignation options.
In a letter to residents posted by County Executive Steve Neuhaus last week on the county website (wwworangecountygov.com), he lists additional areas of potential savings, including elimination of $8 million worth of currently empty positions, and the possibility of the county divesting itself of about $10 million worth of unnecessary vehicles and properties.
There is a sense of urgency about the deficit because last year the county lost a tic in the Moody business rating, dropping from triple AAA to AA2. A revisit by Moody was expected this summer.
With plenty of work on the budget still ahead, they have said they welcome public ideas/input on this, whether at the meetings, by e-mail or by letter.
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