SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city of Saratoga Springs on furloughed 43 employees on Friday. The employees, who vounteered for the program, will be off the job until the end of July. However, the city’s finance commissioner said the move still won’t save enough money to avoid future layoffs, with the city facing devestating revenue losses.
On Friday afternoon, the City Council approved in a series of 4-1 votes collective bargaining agreements with employee unions that allow for the temporary layoffs, during which the employees will keep their health care and other benefits. Some employees who aren’t union members also agreed to furloughs.
Most of the employees being furloughed are in either the public works department or City Hall, with the police and fire departments largely not participating. The furloughs account for about 15 percent of the city workforce.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who proposed a mandatory furlough program on May 6 that she hoped would save the city $3 million by the end of July, was the only member of the council to vote against the voluntary program Mayor Meg Kelly negotiated with the unions.
“It doesn’t do what it needed to do,” Madigan said after the vote. She estimated the net savings to the city would be $277,000, since the city will continue paying for unemployment and health insurance benefits for the employees, even though they will not be paid.
The furloughed employees will qualify to receive state unemployment, and also the $600 per week the federal government is offering displaced workers through the end of July, as part of its pandemic economic stimulus legislation.
“I appreciate all those who volunteered, but it’s likely there will still be layoffs,” Madigan said. “I have a cash flow problem.”
Madigan has estimated the city could see a revenue shortfall of $14 million to $16 million this year, assuming the worst about what could happen to this summer’s thoroughbred racing meet and tourism season, which normally accounts for the lion’s share of city sales tax revenue.
In announcing her proposal, Madigan said she thought the furloughs should apply to all departments, including police and fire, though she acknowledged actually negotiating any arrangements with the unions would be up to the mayor’s office.
Kelly called the furloughs only one measure the city is taking, and said she wants to avoid layoffs. Local governments across the country are considering employee layoffs and other extreme measures as they face deep revenue losses caused — and expected to continue for months — by the economic shutdowns to slow spread of the novel coronavirus.
“This furlough program may not solve all of the city’s financial issues, but it is one step toward avoiding layoffs, which we are doing everything in our power to prevent,” Kelly said. “This program is just one tool in our toolbox. There’s still plenty of work left to do.”
She also thanked the employees who agreed to furloughs. “We can only get through these unprecedented times by working together,” she said.
The cities of Albany and Schenectady had also talked about employee layoffs due to the pandemic, though neither has acted. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced Saturday that she would take none of her $135,000 salary for the rest of the year.