BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – Till this point, the Rockland County Legislature had thrown its support behind County Executive Ed Day’s efforts to consolidate and trim county operations. However, at their July 29 meeting, they decided some of those efforts were too risky to warrant approval.
Faced with six resolutions which reclassify or abolish positions within the Departments of Transportation, Mental Health, Hospitals and General Services, the legislature’s Budget & Finance Committee failed to move or second any of the proposals. The decision was met with applause from a crowd of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) members who turned out to oppose changes they felt would jeopardize their jobs.
The resolutions would have abolished a total of 43 positions and effectively led to the privatization of entire units. In addition, one position with the Department of Transportation would have been reclassified while the Department of Mental Health would see two newly-established positions and one reclassification.
The Departments of Hospitals and General Services would have been most affected by the privatization. The Department of Hospitals would have seen 11 laundry and 3 radiologist positions abolished, while General Services would have seen 18 security positions abolished.
If the changes went through, they would have gone into effect as early as October 4, 2014.
Legislators expressed skepticism about the proposals, with many arguing too little information was provided too late in the year. Budget & Finance Chairman Michael Grant lamented the savings from the resolutions would be “negligible” compared to the harm done to CSEA-contracted employees.
“My opinion is that this was poorly done,” Grant said. “It’s hardly a start.”
Legislator Frank Sparaco argued the timing of the cuts was inopportune and served no purpose, particularly given the legislature’s skepticism of the savings the cuts would create. “To just fire people for the sake of firing people?” Sparaco said. “I can’t go along with that.”
Legislator Aron Wieder reasoned his opposition to the cuts was based partly on his desire to see cuts that impacted employees who were not merely blue-collar workers. “We need to eliminate patronage jobs and we need to eliminate the management positions,” Wieder said. “I’ve seen a lot of faces out there [in the audience], but I didn’t see one of them that was in either management or patronage jobs.”
County Executive Chief of Staff Guillermo Del Rosa challenged the legislature’s perception of the resolutions as hasty. According to him, the County Executive’s Office had briefed legislators on the possibility of privatizing filled positions in July before the resolutions reached Budget & Finance.
“It took me by surprise that they never heard of it when we briefed them at least twice,” Rosa said.
Rosa also argued that due to the October implementation of the changes, the county would not have seen much savings in 2014 regardless. He went on to defend the proposals, stating the legislature needed to consider further cuts to keep the county’s recovery moving forward.
“If we don’t continue to make those decisions and continue to shave off and reduce expenses, next year we’ll go back to what we had two years ago. Chaos,” Rosa argued.
Still, the decision was a temporary victory for the CSEA. Southern Region CSEA President Billy Riccaldo applauded the legislators for recognizing the sacrifices already made by employees to set county finances right and resisting efforts to privatize county services.
“I think they sent a message to the county executive to say, ‘Hey, let’s work together and get this thing done appropriately,’” Riccaldo said.
Rosa announced the County Executive’s Office was not opposed to re-introducing the proposals at a later date and with more detail for the legislature’s consideration.
CORRECTION: The original version stated all six resolutions failed to receive motions. However, of the six personnel resolutions, two passed. These were the resolutions reclassifying one position in the Department of Public Transportation and establishing two positions and abolishing three positions in Mental Health. Hence, 40 positions escaped abolition while 3 were cut and 2 were created.