Shorter work weeks will temporarily be the order of the day as Columbia County officials respond to dramatic budget shortfalls while the region anticipates the first phase of reopening.

Greene County has not moved to furlough employees but officials said that may be an option.

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 from June 6 to Dec. 4, according to the Employee Furlough Plan passed with unanimous support by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night.

The plan is estimated to save Columbia County nearly $1.5 million.

Employees in the health department and the sheriff’s department are exempt from the furloughs, as are workers in emergency management, solid waste and the Office of the Aging’s nutrition program.

Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said the decision to furlough county employees was not taken lightly.

The supervisors felt immediate action was necessary in light of a projected $15 to $20 million loss in sales tax and state aid, Murell said Monday.

Furloughs may be on the table once officials know how much the county will lose in state reimbursements, said Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, on Monday.

“We believe furloughs, if not absolutely necessary, would contribute to the greater problem of unemployment rather than offering a solution,” Linger said. “We still need to provide services.”

Both Greene and Columbia counties previously implemented hiring freezes on non-essential positions and reduced spending in response to anemic revenues over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

County governments statewide are struggling to respond to massive budget shortfalls. The state Association of Counties has repeatedly called on officials at the state and federal level to shore up county budgets.

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors voted April 26 to temporarily lay off 95 employees until August. The layoffs included unionized public works employees, who filed a complaint for not giving workers 30 days notice of the temporary dismissal, according to a statement from the union.

Murell has previously called layoffs a “worst case scenario.”

The Columbia County furloughs were announced just days before the region is expected to be declared eligible to begin the first phase of reopening its economy. Phase one permits the resumption of construction, manufacturing and some retail functions such as curbside pickup.

The Capital Region, which includes Greene and Columbia counties, needs to reach the state goal of having 166 COVID-19 contact tracers to receive the green light, officials said.

Confidence is high that the region will meet the 166-person benchmark by the end of the day Monday, Linger said.

Contact tracers track COVID-19 infections by mapping the web of people who have come into contact with known positives.

Greene County has submitted to the state the names of reserve medical corps volunteers and county employees to be temporarily reassigned as contact tracers, Linger said.

Columbia County, which has 14 contact tracers, is hoping to add 10 or 11 more contact tracers by reassigning existing county employees, Murell said.

The whole region benefits from having more contact tracers, said Murell.

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