County Layoffs Likely in 2011
The County Account by Legislator Michael N. Kelsey
August 01, 2010
Layoffs are coming to Dutchess County. With 86 such layoffs in the past two years alone the prospect of layoffs should come as no surprise — especially when considering the state of the economy (both local and state). But even so the very notion of job losses is enough to run Goosebumps up and down one’s spine; as it should. The expectation as we approach the November budget season is that layoffs in Dutchess will be larger than in years past. Those of us in County Government have been giving serious thought to ways we can mitigate cuts to jobs and programs.
The question of whether “jobs” are to be considered property (and thus subject to entitlement rights) or merely construed as an at-will contract relationship severable upon whim has at times interested the courts and legal scholars with mixed results. The existence of labor unions in itself is suggestive of certain “rights” vested in employees. In Dutchess, three unions thrive: CSEA (Civil Service Employee Association), PBA (Patrolman’s Benevolent Association) and COBA (Corrections Officers Benevolent Association).
Regardless of property/contract theory disputes, the government can and has unfunded positions forcing separation. Today with 1,939 staff members we are at the lowest level of staff since 1987.
Public service is a privilege and a calling, oftentimes with rewarding feelings at the end of the day for helping someone. Yet somewhere along the way it also became a very lucrative position with incommensurable job security, pay and benefits. Public sector employees frequently make more than their private sector counterparts. While government jobs do attract incredible talent who should be compensated for their worth, too often we do so using taxpayers money in excess. Take the Board of Elections’ 3.3million budget for which 78% goes to payroll for an 18 member staff whose average salary is $57,002.
If the entire county labor force would voluntarily take a 5% cut in salary, layoffs could likely be prevented. This could perhaps even be accomplished with giving workers unpaid time off via furloughs, yet when presented at the state-level it was met with much outcry.
Some argue that granting an Early Retirement Incentive to eligible veteran employees might also lessen the severity of layoffs. This option was made available by a program signed into law by Governor Paterson on June 2nd, yet when the County tried this in 2003 it ultimately cost the County taxpayer millions of dollars. This time around CSEA is arguing that if their 125 employees could take it we could save $3million or more. The County budget office disagrees citing new program costs and arguing that the county could not functionally operate if 100-200 of our most experienced employees all retired at once. County legislatures across the State are currently considering whether this program will help or hinder their layoff dilemmas.
Nobody wants to see good workers to lose their jobs but unless we adopt workable strategies to reduce the amount we spend on payroll the default is that layoffs in 2011 will come.
Michael Kelsey is the County Legislator for the Towns of Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and the Village of Millbrook. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com