SARATOGA COUNTY -- Saratoga County officials on Wednesday defended their decision to pay an overtime rate to county employees who are dealing with the county's response to the coronavirus crisis or continuing to report to work during the emergency conditions.
About 340 county employees -- about a quarter of the county's workforce -- have been deemed "essential." They being paid time-and-a-half, which is costing the county about $150,000 per week.
"The county is asking essential employees to go above and beyond a normal workload and they are being compensated in recognition of this extraordinary effort," county officials said in a statement.
Those deemed essential include the departments leading the pandemic response, including the Department of Public Health, Office of Emergency Services, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, as well as sheriff's deputies, emergency communications, corrections officers, and some Department of Social Services workers.
The compensation plan, which was negotiated with the county's three labor unions and then extended to management, was approved last week by the county Board of Supervisors, though some supervisors have since questioned it because of the cost. The compensation arrangement will be reviewed weekly but is likely to last through the emergency, which the county declared on March 16 for 30 days.
The plan authorized up to $325,000 in time-and-a-half payments, but that assumed half the county workforce was still reporting to work -- and 72 percent of employees have now been sent home, with most county offices closed to the public.
The Department of Public Health is leading the response, along with the Office of Emergency Services. The expenses are being tracked in case there is the possibility of a federal or state reimbursement.
"Our dedicated team in Saratoga County is working day and night to minimize the impact that COVID-19 will have on our county," said County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. "I cannot say enough how proud I am of this team that is putting in long hours as we continue to work through this in our community."
The county is operating an emergency operations center at the county office complex in Ballston Spa where about 40 people work, answering calls to a hotline, investigating possible COVID-19 cases and contacting those who may have been exposed. The people there are working long hours and the county is paying to have food brought in for them.
"Like other counties in the state, Saratoga County is currently paying those deemed essential employees that report to work at a rate of time and a half," Hellwig said. "The decision was the result of several considerations, including recognition of their increased risk of exposure, the need to maintain essential staffing, working with our three collective bargaining units, and more simply as a matter of employee equity."
Schenectady County is also under a state of emergency, but is not paying its essential employees anything additional.
Hellwig said he and all county elected officials are not receiving any additional compensation during the coronavirus emergency. Managers are only getting the compensation for 35 hours per week, even though he said some are working more than 80 hours per week.
Part of the $1 million in response funding the supervisors approved last week is paying higher salary costs, but it also includes money for additional hiring of nurses and other people with medical backgrounds, and purchases of items like personal protective equipment and money to serve quarantined people.
The county has gone from having no cases at the beginning of March to dealing with several dozen cases, and presumed "community spread." As of Wednesday afternoon, the state Health Department reported the county has 64 confirmed cases.