HUDSON — Columbia County employees have begun partial and full furloughs in a countywide effort to reduce payroll and avoid layoffs.
Thirty-one employees were approved to take one or two summer months off as part of the county’s voluntary full furlough program, which is estimated to save the county $81,000.
Employees approved for the voluntary summer furloughs are not subject to the county’s mandatory 13-day furlough, which went into effect on Monday and is projected to save the county $1.5 million.
Under the mandatory furlough plan, 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 until December.
No further furloughs are expected, said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell, on Wednesday.
The county was prudent to act early to reduce expenses, Murell said.
“If we had waited until August or September to implement strategies we would have limited our options and we would have been faced with layoffs,” he said.
County officials considered each department’s needs and workload before approving or rejecting the applications for the summer furloughs. The majority of applicants were approved, said Murell.
County officials worked with the Columbia County unit of the United Public Service Employees Union, which represents about 550 county workers, to negotiate the terms of the furloughs.
Kathy Wright-Muzio, the union’s regional coordinator, said the union is working to protect county employees’ rights, including health insurance, as the county moves to implement cost-saving measures in the face of substantial revenue shortfalls.
“The loss of a day’s pay is very painful for a lot of our members,” she said. “We are trying to do our very best to mitigate that loss.”
Wright-Muzio, who serves as a resource and advocate for union members, was aware of one county employee who applied for, but did not receive, the voluntary summer furlough.
“You can only take so many bones out of a skeleton before it collapses,” said Wright-Muzio, referring to the county’s need to continue providing services to the public while temporarily reducing payroll costs.
Corrections officers, who are represented by the state Law Enforcement Officers Union, AFSCME Council 82, are also part of the county’s plan to reduce costs.
Starting this month, county corrections officers are subject to a six-day furlough as part of a package of cost-saving measures approved by the county Board of Supervisors at a special meeting on June 4.
More than 40 corrections officers and command staff at the Columbia County Jail, including Capt. Brian Gardner, will not work and will not receive pay for one day out of every month until November. The measure is estimated to save the county $65,000.
Gardner said no one is happy about the one-day-a-month furlough, but officers will do what is necessary.
The county’s primary goal was to avoid layoffs, ensuring that all county employees would keep their jobs and their health insurance in the midst of a pandemic, Murell said.
With businesses shuttered and sales tax revenue down 31%, county officials first moved to reduce costs by $11 million in mid-May to address a projected $10 million to $20 million deficit.
In addition to furloughs, the county implemented a hiring freeze on non-essential positions, reduced spending and halted infrastructure projects, which Murell called “planning for the worst-case scenario.”
Officials are closely monitoring the county’s sales tax receipts for signs of improvement as the local economy begins to reopen, in the hope that the worst-case scenario may be averted, Murell said.
Despite county officials’ best efforts to reduce costs and avoid layoffs, Murell said a federal aid package is crucially needed. The state Association of Counties has repeatedly called on officials at the state and federal level to shore up county budgets, but the HEROES Act, which included aid to counties, has stalled in the Senate.
Murell is optimistic that a deal can be reached.
“We need help from federal government and, with the economy picking up, hopefully things won’t be as bad as projected,” he said.
Nora Mishanec is a reporter at Columbia-Greene Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-828-1616 ext. 2500.