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Dan Hust | Democrat

Later this afternoon (Friday, Feb. 4), Legislator Leni Binder, above, and her colleagues will vote on whether to lay off dozens of county employees.

Protest rally to precede layoffs vote later today

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — February 4, 2011 — The battle between the unions and county leaders may come to a confrontational head today.
Legislators are scheduled to vote in public session on dozens of layoffs at 5 p.m. today. Beginning at 3 p.m. outside the Government Center in Monticello, the Teamsters Local 445 and the New York State Nurses Association – which together represent more than half of the county’s workforce – will gather in a protest rally that may include a giant inflatable rat.
“We’re going to fight for every position because our people just can’t do any more work,” Teamsters Business Agent Sandy Shaddock said.
A list of layoffs was being circulated yesterday, though that won’t become official until today’s vote. The layoffs themselves will likely be effective by the end of the month.
On Tuesday, eight of the nine legislators (absent Frank Armstrong) met to finish discussions started on Thursday, hearing alternatives from department heads and commissioners eager to avoid staff losses.
But according to Legislator Ron Hiatt, they emerged more than two hours later with a list that – despite the inclusion of about 30 vacant positions that will go unfilled – features dozens of layoffs in currently occupied posts.
“There are two pages of positions, and they’re single-spaced,” Hiatt related, unwilling to be more specific.
“There are a lot,” he added, “and let me tell you, this is just round one.”
Indeed, County Manager David Fanslau told legislators prior to the meeting that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s just-announced state budget proposal would, if enacted, cost the county at least $700,000 in revenue.
And Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis pointed out that the 2011 county budget is already utilizing the majority of the fund balance (surplus), leaving precious little for what may be an equally dire fiscal year in 2012.
“We won’t have that cushion, that rainy-day fund, anymore,” he said. “... [It] isn’t going to be there next year, or the year after, or the year after that.”
Rouis also wouldn’t divulge details of the planned layoffs, except to say that they would be across the board in every department save those that are too small to cut further.
“The list isn’t finalized,” explained Legislator Kathy LaBuda after Tuesday’s meeting concluded. “We’ll be finalizing it over the next few days.”
LaBuda guaranteed a split vote on the layoffs later today.
“We all have a priority list,” she said of her fellow legislators. “... I’m going to make sure my vote is for the people of Sullivan County, not a particular group.”
Shaddock, however, accused legislators of not looking out for those constituents who are also county employees.
“I am deeply concerned that we sit here discussing layoffs when we have proven that they are unwarranted,” she charged at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting. “... Between the $1.6 million in ‘funded vacant salaries’ and nearly $2.5 million in unreported revenue from FMAP [federal Medicaid payments], there is no budget gap.
“You are simply choosing to consistently misrepresent the facts in order to fabricate this $3.3 million hole,” she accused. “You did this in order to gain concessions from the unions and to instill fear and panic into the workforce.”
Legislators did not take kindly to her charges of deception, misrepresentation and fraud.
“I would say that about the union as well,” Legislator Jodi Goodman shot back. “A lot of the information they’re handing out David [Fanslau] has been able to discredit, and I don’t see that being printed very clearly.
“As far as us being ‘immoral,’ I ask that the unions take a look at the positions and what they say about us as well, because the door swings two ways.”
Rouis noted the county has won awards for its bookkeeping methods and transparency.
“Sandy used some very strong language,” he said after the meeting, “and I don’t know what she hopes to accomplish with that.”
“The sad thing is, this did not have to be,” stated Legislator Leni Binder, arguing that the unions could have and should have worked with the county to avoid layoffs by agreeing to a freeze in raises and longevity bonuses.
“But no one’s called me,” lamented Binder. “All they’ve done is sue me.”
Shaddock replied that county leaders have been unacceptably vague about when the freezes might be lifted; that employees are tired of giving back when they are contractually guaranteed the four percent raises and $100-per-year-of-service longevity bonuses; and that funds needed to retain personnel have been too freely handed out to non-county agencies like the D.R.E.A.M. Tank, Eagle Institute and Sullivan County Long Beards.
Binder did offer one thing both sides seem to agree on:
“These are draconian cuts,” she assessed, noting that with personnel losses will come cuts and delays in services. “... It will not be nice.”

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