MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Montgomery County earlier this week laid off 40 of its employees in a bid to save money amid receding tax revenues and projected cuts in state aid.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said the layoffs will be temporary. The 40 staff members include full-time and some part-time workers, and is expected to save between $100,00 and $150,000 out of the county’s $119.1 million 2020 budget.
“They’ll be back after July 31, and given the outlook — as well as we’re starting to get some of the sales tax numbers in — we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do,” Ossenfort said.
Montgomery County joins Fulton County — 60-75 workers laid off — and Schoharie County — 95 employees laid off — who recently announced temporary layoffs in response to anticipated reductions in sales tax revenue and state aid.
Ossenfort said the 2020 first-quarter sales tax numbers for Montgomery County had actually been showing an increase until the month of March, when the state’s payments to the county dropped by 28 percent.
Ossenfort said Montgomery County has typically seen sales tax revenue rise and fall with the price of gasoline due to fuel sales to truck drivers at its two Thruway rest stops in Pattersonville and Fultonville. Gas prices have taken a dive in the past few months, and there is less travel.
“[In March] that number is down about $750,000 [from the year before], so municipalities are going to take a hit here, no doubt about it,” Ossenfort said. “And also you’re going to have 20 percent [aid] cuts potentially coming from the state, so we don’t know the status of what the federal help is going to be.
“We know there is some programming out there, and some funding out there, but it’s going to be a very interesting budget year for sure, so we’re trying to take every precaution as we go into it. We’ve also initiated a soft hiring freeze at the county, only absolutely critical positions are being filled.”
Montgomery County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman is scheduled to give a report to the county Legislature detailing expected cuts to state aid at the Legislature’s May 19 committee meetings, which will be conducted via a conference call from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and then posted to the county’s YouTube.com channel.
Montgomery County will pay for the health insurance of the 40 furloughed employees, but they will not receive New York state pension credit for the period of time they are laid off, unless the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agree to amend the state’s pension rules.
Ossenfort said he has signed a memorandum of understanding with Montgomery County’s CSEA bargaining unit agreeing to the temporary furloughs.
“One of the layoff areas, that broke my heart, was in the history and archives department, where we can save some money until July,” Ossenfort said. “We had one in economic development. We went department by department for how many employees we needed to fulfill our mission at this time. For example, there were about 10 positions laid off in the county Department of Social Services, and a lot of those positions are [mostly state reimbursed] so we’re really saving pennies on the dollar.”
The U.S. CARES Act has provided a $600 increase to the weekly unemployment benefit of employees laid off up until July 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The benefit is intended to make workers earning less than $50,000 a year whole for their lost salaries.
District 9 Legislature Robert Purtell said he agrees the layoffs are necessary.
“It is unfortunate that we have to take these measures at this time, but in these unpredictable times I believe it is a necessity,” Purtell said. “Hopefully we can get back to normal as soon as possible.”
During its 2020 budget process Montgomery County estimated the county would collect $31 million in sales tax for 2020; it collected approximately $32 million in 2019.
Montgomery County is part of the Mohawk Valley Region, and is set to be a part of the Phase 1 reopening of the economy on Friday. Ossenfort is set to hold a briefing to explain the details of the reopening, which will be broadcast live on the county’s Facebook page at 1 p.m. Friday in the Montgomery County emergency management center.