BATAVIA — Citing layoffs and furloughs, as well as a number of other measures taken this year due to COVID-19 and the resulting economic slowdown, Genesee County urged Washington to pass a Stimulus 4 bill.
The county Wednesday said it sent a message to its congressional delegation urging support for a federal Stimulus 4 Act as aid to state and local governments. County Manager Jay Gsell said the message went out last Friday. Along with the county’s federal elected representatives, it went to elected representatives in Albany and to the towns and villages in the Genesee Association of Municipalities (GAM).
“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic slowdown have devastated county budgets on a scale not seen since the Great Depression,” the county said in the message. “As counties throughout New York state await desperately needed direct aid from the federal government, they have taken the following actions to stabilize their budgets and ensure the maintenance of critical local services.”
The layoffs and furloughs were part of that list.
“Two people have been laid off. The estimated savings approximately over 12 months is $152,000,” Gsell said Wednesday. He was asked what positions were involved in the layoffs, but did not give any further detail on the layoffs.
Asked whether furloughed employees still receiving the $600-per-week federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Gsell said, “To the best of our knowledge, yes.
Regarding health insurance costs for the furloughed employees, he said, “The county kept paying the employer share and the employee paid their monthly percentage share, depending what union they were in or if management, 20 percent.”
There were 28 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff on furlough as of Wednesday and those employees are likely to return on or before July 31, Gsell said, He gave no further details on those positions.
Asked how much the county has reduced spending to offset sales tax reductions and possible aid reductions, the county manager said, “To date, we are showing a net reduction of approximately $2.2 million in the 2020 adopted budget.”
Also on the list included in the county’s message was the continuing “strategic” hiring freeze. The only exceptions to the freeze, the county says, are essential positions — public safety, public health and EMS. Gsell said the freeze has saved about $297,000.
“One to three FTEs have been unfrozen and the recruitment process has commenced,” Gsell said. He did not say what positions were unfrozen.
The other measures the county has taken, officials said in the message, included the following:
• Developed contingency plans based on loss of state revenue and other economy-driven tax revenue losses;
• Held efficiency meetings with all department heads and asked for a list of line items in their budgets that they could cut and see potential savings through the end of the year and future years;
• Limited spending to essential items only with approval on a case-by-case basis;
• Requested justification for all purchases based on operational need;
• Suspended/deferred the purchase of new equipment or leases, unless necessary to keep staff working or to respond to COVID-19;
• Instituted a system to track all expenditures related to COVID-19 for potential reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA);
• Reviewed all contracts for performance metrics during COVID-19 and made payment adjustments to reflect services rendered;
• Limited training to only what is mandatory;
• Eliminated all unnecessary travel, including commitments for future discretionary travel;
• Reduced seasonal employment in part-time Highway Parks and Forest;
• Updated contracts to allow for flexibility if needed, updated and implemented contingency measures, further scrutinized mandated and unmandated programs for flexibility options;
• Significantly reduced overtime costs;
• Deferred most capital projects;
• Delayed the opening of pavilions at county parks;
• Reduced road and bridge repairs to offset 20 percent reduced funding from CHIPS/PAVE NY;
• Reduced planned public facilities projects, highway infrastructure projects, and soil and water conservation initiatives;
• Delayed a jail construction project delayed while further discussions with the state are conducted to allow for a joint two county jail shared service initiative;
• Currently investigating areas of privatization of County services; and
• Planned reduced or flat funding for outside agencies in 2021 budget.
“New Yorkers can’t afford any more cuts to local jobs and services. Tell Congress and the White House it’s time to provide direct, flexible, unrestricted aid to state and local governments and preserve services, stop the cuts, and get our economy moving again,” the county said.