More than 200 Nassau County workers took early retirement incentives aimed at cutting payroll expenses Friday, but a fiscal control board is skeptical of plans to borrow millions to fund the package.
County Executive Ed Mangano proposed the separation agreements as a way to close a $77 million projected deficit stemming from slumping sales tax revenue and the county legislature approved $5 million in bonding to fund the plan last month. But, since more workers signed on than were expected, the county plans to request an additional $3.5 million, bringing the total planned borrowing to $8.5 million, Newsday reported. This week, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) reminded the administration that the board previously passed a resolution requiring the county to propose a balanced budget for the following year before asking NIFA to approve more bonding.
“You’d like the board to consider either ignoring or retracting its decision,” Chris Wright, the most outspoken NIFA board member, told Rob Walker, the chief deputy county executive, at the panel’s Sept. 10 meeting. Walker replied: “I’ll ask you to make your decision for yourselves.”
NIFA approved the separation plan, but the proposed bonding is not expected to be formally presented to NIFA until later. The county expects to pay for the first 75 separations out of operating expenses. The workers are to get $1,000 for each year of service.
A spokeswoman for Mangano said some workers already left and 150 are slated to leave Friday. A spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association Local 830, the largest of the five unions representing county workers, said additional employees are expected to submit to the plan by the end of the day.
The incentive is the latest in a string of several such packages offered to Nassau workers over the years as the county sought to reel in expenses after it nearly went bankrupt at the turn of the millennium under the Republican administration of Tom Gulotta, whose mismanagement prompted NIFA’s creation. Mangano also laid off hundreds of county workers when NIFA stepped up its monitoring role to a full control board in 2011 shortly after Mangano, a Republican, unseated his Democratic predecessor, Tom Suozzi.
The departing workers this time come from a variety of departments, including social services, public works and crossing guards. Some of the vacated positions will be filled by other workers, such as sewer workers slated to be reassigned after the county sewage system is turned over to a private company. It’s unclear how much the plan will save.
“Actual savings will depend upon the number of vacant positions that are backfilled,” said Evan Cohen, NIFA executive director. Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy, estimated that even if 70 percent of the vacated positions are filled, the county will save $5.2 million, but they don’t expect that many workers to be replaced.
NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman expressed concern about the uncertainty regarding the number of replacements and echoed Wright’s concerns about the Mangano administration, indicating that it may request borrowing without first having a proposed budget.
“We would like to understand that there is a plan that…will be monitored and followed and it’s not simply a matter of getting some folks off the payrolls to be replaced by others at the same salary a few months later,” Kaiman said. He later added: “I think the board would have a better comfort level with it if the savings that have been articulated…are part of a plan that’s presented to us with an overall budget plan.”
In order to fill this year’s budget gap without breaking Mangano’s campaign promise not to raise property taxes, the county has also raised fees at parks and on permit applications as well as installed speed cameras in school zones—tickets from which were dismissed under a botched roll out this summer.
In other business this week, NIFA approved several county contracts, including one in which United Water will take over operation of the county sewer system. The panel also approved lifting the wage freeze for the county Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, the last county worker union to receive raises.