Legislature’s Budget & Finance Committee Moves on Voluntary Incentive Program

By Michael Riconda

New City – After a long period of discussion in the legislature and committees, the long-delayed targeted voluntary separation incentive program for the Rockland Association of Management and Civil Service Employees Association might finally come to a final vote.

The county legislature’s budget and finance committee voted the most recent version of the program through after a thorough review of its fiscal necessity and impact. The sole vote against the resolution was cast by Legislator John Murphy, who objected to it on the grounds that it would cut unreasonably deep into mental health services.

“This is a non-humanitarian tool of cost reduction that’s not even realistic,” Murphy told other legislators. “It’s a non-compassionate, mathematician’s solution to our financial problems.”

The program would offer incentives for county workers to resign from their positions. If an employee takes the package, a department head will tell the county of how many replacements will be necessary or if the position can be abolished altogether, allowing high-earners to be replaced by lower paid newcomers, saving the county money while controlling attrition.

“Someone can be at the top of that salary grade making $56 an hour.” Commissioner of Personnel Joan Silvestri explained. “If we bring in a new person, a young person out of college, that person could be making $26 an hour.”

Deputy Budget Director Steve Grogan added that if the program was not finalized, the county would have to sweep other departmental accounts to meet the 2013 budget’s goal of $4.5 million in salary savings, impacting their own performance.

Murphy questioned the financial impact as well, remarking that replacements take time and vacancies would undoubtedly impact social services. He went on to request another tabling of the bill until direct healthcare providers could be brought in to testify on the effects of resignations on operations, but later retracted the amendment.

In spite of Murphy’s objections, Legislators Michael Grant and Ilan Schoenberger both expressed a desire to bring the matter to an up-or-down vote, though Grant emphasized that legislators had the opportunity to ask questions and put concerns to rest.

“It’s not my intention to kill this in committee tonight,” Grant explained.

Schoenberger explained the long, often roundabout process through which the resolution was brought to the legislature, which repeatedly examined and requested changes to the program. According to Schoenberger, part of the reason why the legislation was held up was non-responsiveness to legislative requests and last-minute concerns.

In the case of the last instance of the program’s presentation to the legislature at their last full assembly, a last minute memo from the county’s financial analyst split the legislature, encouraging further review before a vote.