On cue, officials in Greene and Columbia counties are weighing options to ease the pain of the potentially crushing deficits our area is likely to face in the shadow of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shorter work weeks will temporarily be the order of the day in Columbia County as 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 option may be on the table.
Columbia County employees, including those in management roles, will work nine out of ten days every pay period for about six months, 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 could 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.
Furloughs may be considered once officials know how much the county will lose in state reimbursements, said Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore. But Linger emphasized that furloughs may do more harm than good.
“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.”
These are the kinds of action that could change the trajectory of a community’s future. At some point, all services become essential. And, right here, right now, tax revenue is drying up with so many businesses closed. Greene and Columbia county leaders have to show they can manage this budget crisis as skillfully as they have managed the public health crisis.