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County will temporarily lay off 40 employees, which is 10% of workforce

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 April 2020 at 12:01 pm

County officials fear plummeting sales tax revenue, state reimbursement cuts

Photo by Tom Rivers: County Legislator John DeFilipps, R-Clarendon, reads the resolution this morning calling for temporary county layoffs. It passed in a 7-0 vote.

ALBION – The county government workforce will shrink by 40 employees or about 10 percent as the county grapples with declining sales tax revenue and anticipated reduced state reimbursements.

The county could face big losses in sales tax revenue and expects cuts in state reimbursements for other services. The stock market decline also will mean local government will have to pay more in pension contributions.

“We’re in unchartered territory here,” said Jack Welch, the county’s chief administrative officer.

The county annually receives about $17 million in sales tax. March was down 9 percent and that’s only with nonessential businesses closed for about two weeks.

Early projections from the state comptroller estimated the county would take a minimal hit of about $559,000. That estimate for the minimal decrease has since been doubled to about $1.1 million. And that’s on the low side. The county could see a bigger loss.

“We have no idea how bad it could get,” Welch said.

The sales tax helps fund the county government, and reduces the level of property tax.

If the sales tax drops, the county would have to raise property taxes, unless it reduces expenses.

That’s why the County Legislature voted this morning to temporarily lay off 40 employees, initially for 30 days. The Legislature may extend that in two additional 30-day increments, ending July 31. After that day, if the county is in economic distress, it could make the layoffs permanent, according to the resolution adopted this morning.

The Legislature agreed to have the county continue to pay towards the health insurance of those employees during the temporary layoff.

Welch said employees will be asked if they want to be temporarily laid off. Once the county has a list of names, Welch and department heads will meet mid-week next week to identify 40 people by the end of the week, with the layoffs to start on a new pay period beginning April 26.

Welch said the reductions will include many departments, but not the Health Department or the Sheriff’s Office.

Welch said some county employees, with unemployment and the government stimulus checks for people on unemployment, could actually see more money during the temporary layoff.

Many of the employees have been working from home, or just are at home during the shutdown. Welch said the county isn’t in a position to keep paying people to stay home and not work, especially with a state-imposed shutdown continuing through at least May 15.

Lynne Johnson, County Legislature chairwoman, said the Legislature didn’t make the action lightly.

“Our employees and families are very important not only to county operations but to our community,” she said. “This is a temporary action to help stabilize the situation. Our employees are our most valuable asset.”

Johnson said the union representing the employees agreed later this morning to the temporary layoffs.

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