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Dan Hust | Democrat

A giant inflatable rat watched over union members protesting on Friday Sullivan County leaders’ decision to enact layoffs rather than tax hikes to pay for contractually guaranteed pay raises and longevity bonuses – a move those leaders said was forced by the unions’ unwillingness to freeze the wages.

County legislators vote to lay off 48 – sort of

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — February 8, 2011 — Amidst a packed room of union members who had just finished a two-hour protest rally outside the Government Center, legislators voted 16 employees out and four percent raises back in on Friday.
Technically, the layoffs totalled 48 positions, but 31 are currently vacant spots that will simply not be filled, and a single social welfare examiner won’t be replaced when the position shortly is vacated.
That said, two of those being layed off will be shunted to other positions in county government – rounding down the actual layoffs to 14 – and seniority will allow certain employees to “bump” out of their jobs people who would otherwise not have been laid off.
Nevertheless, Friday’s two votes generated impassioned comments – from union leaders and members, who felt the layoffs were avoidable; and from legislators, who mostly felt they had no other choice.
“It is an action which is shortsighted and reckless,” charged 18-year Public Health nurse Lise Kennedy, particularly concerned about the impacts to the county’s child abuse response team.
“Please, please vote your conscience, not your pocketbook,” pleaded nurse Martha Wilcox, who feared the loss of a Women, Infants and Children (WIC) coordinator and two other Family Services employees would be “life-threatening.”
“Every single layoff on that list will impact residents of Sullivan County,” warned Teamsters Local 445 Business Agent Sandy Shaddock.
One union member told legislators that votes to lay off workers would return as votes against them in their runs for office later this year, but it was Records Retention Coordinator Henry Belser who stirred the crowd most.
“We used to be two [workers], until today,” the 15-year employee lamented of the coming loss of his colleague. “... How do you cut my budget by 50 percent? You’re cutting me off at the knees!”
Angrily blaming County Manager David Fanslau in particular, Belser noted that legislators didn’t touch Fanslau’s contract but were willing to try to change the terms of the unions’ (the wage and longevity bonus freezes).
“We don’t want to hear you ‘didn’t know it would be this bad,’” he stated. “We pay you to know!”
Union members characterized the situation as the result of financial mismanagement by county leaders, while Rock Hill resident Dave Colavito considered it an outcome of the recession.
“I would certainly support a modest property tax increase, in conjunction with other measures, to avoid layoffs,” he proffered.
Shaddock’s immediate predecessor, Lou Setren, agreed there’s still time “for meaningful dialogue,” “ways we can keep the workforce whole.”
But a quick executive session by legislators didn’t stave off the votes.
First, legislators unanimously agreed to the restoration of the raises and longevity bonuses.
Then they agreed in a 7-2 vote to enact the layoffs that they said would give them the approximately $2 million needed to hand out the raises and bonuses.
Only legislators Frank Armstrong and Kathy LaBuda were opposed – citing their concern that not every option had yet been explored.
“I have been prepared to make cuts,” Armstrong explained. “... [But] I’d really like to see some cooperation, some faith, some hope.”
“I cannot and will not support a layoff until every possible alternative has been used to cut costs and reduce spending in every single county office, bar none,” LaBuda stated.
Legislator Ron Hiatt replied that it is easy to make speeches but harder to find those “alternatives.”
“I’m coming up with a loss,” he said.
He pointed out that the private sector is not handing out raises, but “we complain because we can’t get an extra four percent? That’s terrible!”
Hiatt charged that the unions, unwilling to renegotiate their already-renegotiated contracts, left legislators with a choice to either lay people off or raise taxes – so he chose what he felt was the lesser evil.
“I’m not afraid of losing my job,” he replied to expectations of repercussions on Election Day. “I’m afraid of not doing my job.”
“Nobody signed a contract to break it,” said Legislator Leni Binder, “... and shame on you if you really in your heart believe we’re that mean, that stupid!”
But while the layoffs are slated to become effective February 28, legislators indicated some may still be avoided.
“There is not a legislator up here that’s not interested in talking,” Legislator Jodi Goodman related.
“We remain ... open to continue to hear what you have to say,” vowed Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis.
But this may not signal the end of layoffs in the near future, he added.
“We’ll turn the lights on next year close to $11.5 million in the hole,” he predicted. “As difficult and wrenching as this is, the task has just begun. ... These are not ploys or tactics – this is reality.”

Filled positions being cut
• Deputy Legislature Clerk
• Senior Clerk
• Human Resources Coordinator (Personnel)
• Senior Budget Analyst (County Manager)
• Alternatives to Incarceration (Probation)
• Family Support Worker (Family Services)
• OSHA Training Safety Specialist (Transportation)
• Audit Clerk
• Legal Secretary (County Attorney)
• Records Management Survey Technician (County Clerk)
• Tax Clerk (Treasurer)
• Webmaster (Management Information Systems)
• Administrative Secretary (Planning)
• Senior Database/E-911 Researcher (Real Property Tax Services)
• Building Engineer (Public Works)
• Road Maintenance Supervisor (Public Works)

Vacant positions being cut
• Food Service Helper
• Director of Temporary Assistance (Family Services)
• Chief Civil Officer (Sheriff's Office)
• Public Health Nursing Program Coordinator
• Deputy Sheriff
• Physical Therapy Physician
• Account Clerk
• SCADAS Program Coordinator (Community Services-Addition Control)
• Staff Social Worker (four total amongst Mental Health Case Management, Mental Health Clinic and Treatment Reaching Youth)
• Assistant Social Worker (two total in Mental Health Case Management)
• Data Entry Operator (Family Services-Accounting)
• Family Services Investigator (Child Support)
• Principal Social Welfare Examiner (three total in Family Services-Medical Assistance)
• Senior Account Clerk (Family Services-Medical Assistance)
• Case Supervisor (Family Services)
• Caseworker (two total in Family Services)
• Head Social Welfare Examiner (Family Services-Special Investigations)
• Social Welfare Examiner (three total amongst Family Services-Special Investigations and Temporary Assistance)
• Senior Clerk/Typist (Family Services-Temporary Assistance)
• Social Services Housing Inspector (Family Services-Temporary Assistance)
• Case Service Aide (Family Services-Temporary Assistance)
• Case Management Coordinator (Family Services-Temporary Assistance)
• Family Support Worker (Healthy Beginnings)

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