It’s time to settle. I am actively working with my administrative teams to review the 2019 financials and look for any financial opportunities that may result in potential modest increases on the base and/or lump sum payments to avoid contracts remaining unsettled.
I wanted to communicate and ensure transparency regarding union negotiations and where they stand to date. Most of our union contracts were expired as of 2017 and some as early as 2010. Understanding the magnitude of having outstanding contracts and the impact on the employees, I put aside $4 million in the 2018 budget to try and settle some of these union contracts.
In 2018 our Department of Personnel, on average, met monthly with union negotiators and offered operational proposals with monetary increases and lump sum payments. Not only did the Personnel Department meet with them repeatedly but so did I; it was that important to me. Some of the union contracts settled based on these offers. Other unions, despite being offered increases on their base pay and lump sum payments, left these offers on the table and some did not even present these offers to the membership.
Since those offers were given, some unions have declared impasse and the New York Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) mediator made detailed mediator recommendations with lump sum payments to membership. Those recommended offers were all declined leaving unsettled contracts for another year. In all cases, these lump sum payments were significant and would also have counted towards pensionable earnings. To state or imply that either my administration or I have not negotiated in good faith is pure fiction.
I have once again included money in this year’s budget (an additional $1.5 million) to go towards contract settlements but need to ensure fiscal responsibility is achieved at the same time; it is a balance. We finally have a positive fund balance but the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) recommends that the General Fund maintain an unrestricted fund balance of no less than 2 months of operating expenditures to be truly financially healthy. That’s between $50 and $90 million in the bank, nowhere near the $6.3 million we currently have. While these are positive signs, we still have a long way to go until we reach full financial strength.
That said, I want to ensure that our hard-working and dedicated employees receive a fair contract. They have been critical to the modernization of County government and serving the public. But we will not spend money we do not have and will remain fiscally responsible. That has been the credo of this administration and as much as I want to see our employees get the raises they deserve I will not jeopardize our financial progress.
I want to do right by our employees, but there must be a balance between their needs and the need to safeguard taxpayer dollars. I sincerely hope that we can soon reach agreements with all of Rockland’s unions, and I look forward with working with them on fair settlements.