BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature has proven persistent in its fight to preserve the jobs of county employees, equally persistent to County Executive Ed Day’s effort to achieve cost savings.
In a series of near unanimous votes, the Legislature’s Budget & Finance Committee rejected three proposals to abolish a total of 32 positions in the Department of Hospitals and Department of General Services. This is the second rejection of executive efforts to eliminate the positions this summer.
According to Day’s representatives, the elimination of these positions-which would effectively liquidate entire units within the departments-would earn the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings during the 2015 fiscal year. A savings summary prepared by the County Executive’s Office outlined projected savings of $316,125 after projected one-time costs, with annual savings tallying up to $1.59 million.
According to County Executive Chief-of-Staff Guillermo Rosa, the cuts would also allow the county some flexibility to negotiate for the future employment of these individuals with private firms. Day’s larger fiscal plans for the hospital call for private contract workers to be brought in, allowing the county to avoid benefit payments to employees.
Historically, the legislature has been hesitant to support the layoffs, which were proposed and rejected twice during the administration of former County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. Earlier in July, a similar proposal was also rejected by the legislature, partly because they claimed it was presented without adequate notice or time for consideration.
The issue is also sensitive because of the workers themselves. Most of the positions are low-level laundry worker, security and radiology posts held by working class Rocklanders who would be particularly vulnerable if they were to be released from employment.
In addition, the positions with the Department of Hospitals are located at the Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care Center, leading to questions of whether or not abolishing the positions would be redundant as the sale continues to move forward and the possibility of restructuring looms large.
Though representatives of the county executive met with legislative leadership after the last meeting and reached out to other legislators, the talks did not seem to sway most of those who voted on the resolution. In the end, all members of the Budget & Finance committee except Leg. John Murphy voted against the cuts.
Most of the legislators held to the same arguments they made in July. According to Leg. Jay Hood, the resolutions did not save enough to warrant the human cost of layoffs and would release the workers far earlier than necessary.
Hood further said passing the resolutions would constitute “adding insult to injury” for county employees who continue to wonder whether they will have jobs in the coming years.
“I don’t see this as worth it,” Hood said.
Others on the legislature were more receptive to the cuts. Though he was not on the committee, Leg. Christopher Carey expressed support for the resolutions and stated that if they reached the general legislature, he would vote for them. Carey argued the county had to make such hard decisions to avoid slipping back into a deficit.
“We’re gonna start in the hole in 2015,” Carey said.
Though the committee voted against those three resolutions, it did approve two others reclassifying existing positions. The first, a reclassification of one Department of Health position from full-time to part-time, passed unanimously.
The second sought to eliminate seven “orphaned positions” in the Department of Mental Health, which were left redundant by the transfer of inpatient services to Nyack Hospital and was approved by all committee members except Leg. Toney Earl.