Last Thursday afternoon, the Rockland County Legislature Budget & Finance Committee discussed the proposed cuts in the Department of General Services. Later that same day, there were further debates on layoffs with the heads of the County Highway department and Health department. This is just the beginning of the legislature's budget review process.
“Ultimately this is the county’s proposed budget and the department head has to come here and defend it,” said Ilan Schoenberger, county legislator.
About 15 people attended the meeting, during which Charles "Skip" Vezzetti—county highway superintendent—expressed his deep concern on the impact of public safety if the proposed cuts are made.
Nicole Doliner, fiscal analyst on the Budget & Finance committee, broke down the highway budget, which showed seven new positions and 12 eliminated positions, leaving a net of five positions being cut from the county road fund. There is another position being cut from the department's road machinery fund, bringing the grand total up to six.
For more details on the budget breakdown and reclassifications in the department, read this earlier Patch article.
Vezzetti said that the effects of this proposed budget includes a reduction of snow plow routes, delayed services and ultimately, a possible decline in public safety.
“We still have 170 miles of roads we have to provide service for,” said Vezzetti. “There’s a safety issue. We have 24 snow plow routes. We only have 20 drivers at this point.”
He added that he was proud of his department for their work during the recent two storms, that everyone was putting in extra hours to ensure all roads were cleared from Sandy and then salted and plowed for the Nor’easter storm. Some of the employees worked around the clock for 1-2 days. However, it was the recent storms that proved to Vezzetti how valuable his employees were to the county’s public safety.
“We will try to do everything (all services),” he said. “Some areas may see a reduction in service such as snow plowing (since) we don’t have the people to man the snow plows.”
He said that the department looked reducing snow plow routes and giving certain roads higher priority than others.
“(It just takes) a few guys to call in sick and I could end up with 30 guys to do everything. We’ve doubled up a lot of times already and would be stretched with our day to day projects like drainage.”
“I would ask, that the leg take a close look at the budget for highway. They certainly need the people. There are lot of services that won’t get done. We’re bordering on a safety issue here in Rockland if there’s a storm,” said Jim Gangale, a representative from the United Public Service Employees Union for the highway department.
Schoenberger brought up the fact that the members of the sheriff’s department were also facing layoffs because many of its offices are not mandated.
“The issue is not public safety, it’s money. What we have is a budget that’s sent to us with many many problems,” said Schoenberger.
Gangale said that their “contract expired back in December 2010 and we do not have a new collective bargaining.”
“Since 2010 when the contract expired, we had total of four meetings,” said Gangale. “We’ve asked for meetings, didn’t get them and other meetings got canceled.”
He added that he’s had difficulties working with Jay Jason, county negotiator.
“The major difference is the 10 deferred days. That’s a major strain. He (Jason) comes in and says this is the deal take it or leave it. We sent it back to him, our counter proposal. He refused to go back into collective bargaining," said Gangale. “Our folks are more than willing to help and freeze their steps. We’re offering zeros for three years and being told, ‘we’re not sure if that’s a great position for the county.’”
“A number of us have objected to (Jason) and questioned over the years why the executive continues to use him,” said Schoenberger. “That has been an issue of contention with us for a number of times. Other branches of government should be at the table, if not to participate, at least to just observe. We’ve been denied that.”
“I assume that what the administration is asking you to sign off on is almost identical to what they negotiated with CSEA and RAM," added Schoenberger. "They have 12 bargaining units and have picked the two largest ones, CSEA and RAM, and pushed their contracts on the others.”
Gangale echoed Schoeberger's thoughts saying that "One size doesn't fit all" and that he’s concerned about the families that are losing their jobs."
Schoenberger said that the highway department is in the same boat as all other departments and that he couldn’t give Gangale an answer right away as the legislators were still in the middle of the budget process and have not heard from all department heads yet.
“Our hearts are with you. It’s a bitter bill to swallow,” said Doug Jobson. “I’m part of a collective bargaining unit myself and wouldn’t want this to happen to me. This is a very vicarious situation the county finds itself in.”
Here is what's been discussed so far during this budget process:
- Proposed County Highway Layoffs May Reduce Service
- Legislature Debates Cuts In General Services