County pushes for voluntary furloughs

File photoThe Columbia County Office Building. The Board of Supervisors is proposing a voluntary furlough plan for workers to take the summer off with health benefits but without salaries as a way of closing budget gaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HUDSON — Columbia officials hope some employees may help alleviate the county’s budget woes by taking the summer off.

The county is offering employees a voluntary two-month furlough in an attempt to reduce payroll expenses and avoid layoffs.

Columbia County employees who participate in the full furlough will forgo salary for June and July but retain health insurance benefits, according to the plan unanimously approved by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors at an emergency Finance Committee meeting May 13.

Germantown Town Supervisor Robert Beaury, who sponsored the resolution to adopt furloughs, said he supported the measure to shore up county finances.

“You do not want to be looking in the rearview mirror and asking, ‘Why didn’t we do this? Why didn’t we do that?’” Beaury said.

County employees have until Friday to express interest in the voluntary summer furlough to their department heads.

Beaury said the gravity of the situation called for a speedy response.

“We have a situation where we need to find all sorts of ways, some of them painful, to save money,” he said.

Columbia County may lose as much as $15 million to $20 million in sales tax revenue and a loss of state aid is also expected, Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said Monday.

The summer furloughs being offered to county employees are part of the county’s plan to cut operating costs by nearly $10 million, which has been approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The county is reducing capital expenditures and pressing pause on some roadwork and equipment purchases. A previously implemented hiring freeze is expected to save the county around $1.3 million, according to the resolution passed by the board.

The cost-cutting measures also include a partial furlough of all Columbia County employees that will go into effect June 6, which is estimated to save the county nearly $1.5 million.

Under that plan, most Columbia County employees, including those in management roles, will not work and will not receive pay for one day out of every two-week pay period until December. Health and emergency management employees are not subject to the partial workweek reduction.

Counties statewide anticipate that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting consequences on how their governments operate.

Columbia County officials hope that their furlough plan will forestall the need for layoffs, which Murell has called a “worst case scenario.”

The Columbia County furloughs are set to go into effect just days after the state begins its phased reopening, beginning with the resumption of construction and curbside retail.

The sooner the economy opens up, the sooner the county can begin to pull back cost-cutting measures, Murell said.

Nora Mishanec is a reporter at Columbia-Greene Media. She can be reached at nmishanec@columbiagreenemedia.com or 518-828-1616 ext. 2500.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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